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Your Ann Arbor Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Last updated: November 8, 2013

Ann Arbor is always buzzing with energy. People here are engaged in arts, sports, academic study, and civic participation. It could be the city's active culture, or its culture of activism. Arborites love it, but occasionally that energy is misguided, and someone gets hurt.

If you've suffered a physical injury, and you think someone else is responsible, learn about the law so that you can recover for your medical bills, lost wages, pain, and anguish. On the other hand, if someone is blaming you for his/her injuries, you should take in as much information as you can to protect yourself and your assets. Findlaw provides this guide to the basics of personal injury law in Ann Arbor so that we can all handle our disputes more efficiently and get back to the activities that we love.

Statutes of Limitations: Time Limits for Taking Action

If you've been injured and you're considering taking legal action, you should be aware that there are time limits for doing so, called "statutes of limitations." After the time has expired, a court may refuse to hear your case. In Michigan, injured parties generally have three years to bring a lawsuit.

Do not wait until the last minute to file a suit, and do not assume that the three year limit applies in your case. There may be exceptions to the rule that lengthen or shorten your allowed time. For example, you may sue an individual for intentionally harmful conduct, such as an assault after a game at the Big House. While there are advantages for suing on an intentional tort theory, the state of Michigan reduces your time to file a claim down to two years. Contact an attorney early on to be sure that you will not be denied your day in court.

Damages Claims

Courts will award two kinds of damages as a means of compensating an injured party: (1) economic damages, and (2) non-economic damages. Economic damages are those that represent actual money that an injured person loses or has to pay. If you've been injured, this would include your medical bills, lost wages, and possibly other expenses related to the injury. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, compensate an injured party for pain, suffering, anguish, embarrassment, or similar feelings that come with being injured. So when you're trying to determine how much time and energy you're willing to expend on a lawsuit, consider all of the forms of compensation available to you.

Liability and Calculating the Damage Award

A jury or a judge will determine whether-and how much-each party is at fault for a plaintiff's injury. The court will then reduce the amount that a defendant must pay according to other parties' blameworthiness. So, if a terrible neighbor (likely an Ohio State graduate) forgets to chain up his pit bull, he will likely be liable in a personal injury case. But if a Michigan man saw the disturbed animal and suffered a dog bite while trying to feed it, a jury might reduce the award.

The State has an additional rule. If an injured party is more than 50% at fault, then that party will have his/her economic damages reduced as described above. The injured party, however, will not be able to collect any non-economic damages for his/her pain and suffering.

Finding an Attorney

Many parties to a personal injury case prefer to hire an attorney who specializes in personal injury work as either a plaintiffs-side lawyer or a defense lawyer. The Washtenaw County Bar Association, an organization of attorneys in and around Ann Arbor, has a lawyer referral service to pair clients with lawyers whose services may fit the clients' needs. The referral costs $30, and you receive a 30 minute consultation. You can also search for an Ann Arbor attorney on FindLaw and see which attorneys offer free consultations. Whether you use the WCBA's referral service or FindLaw, you may benefit from reading the Michigan Bar Association's Practical Guide to Hiring a Lawyer.

Paying an Attorney

Some plaintiffs' personal injury attorneys use a contingent fee system with their clients. The amount that a client pays depends on the amount of a settlement or a judgment. These agreements must be in writing, and state the method of calculating the fee. In most cases, the contingent fee may not exceed one-third of the settlement or judgment. The courts generally do not award attorneys' fees in personal injury cases. So if you win, you'll have to pay your own bills.

Special Cases

Car Accidents are a common source of personal injuries, and in most states you would pursue a legal claim stemming from a car accident just as you would any other scenario. The State of Michigan, however, has a no-fault system for handling personal injuries arising out of crashes. In summary, this means that your insurance will pay for your medical expenses, lost wages, and some incidental costs. You can only recover for non-economic losses if you suffer a serious injury.

Workplace injuries have a legal system all their own. Workers' compensation provides injured workers with lost wages, medical care, and rehabilitation services. If you fall at work, you will not be allowed to sue your employer the way you would sue a neighbor if you slip and fall on the neighbor's porch. Instead of having three years, more or less, to consider taking action, the Workers' Compensation Agency ("WCA") advises injured parties to notify an employer "immediately."

You should seek medical treatment as early as possible, but your employer has a right to choose the doctor during the first four weeks of treatment. Wage loss benefits generally go into effect after seven days. If your employer does not submit a claim on your behalf, you may file an Employee's Report of Claim (PDF) with the WCA. Visit the WCA's website for answers to frequently asked questions.