Michigan Auto Accident Vehicle Damage - How to File in Small Claims Court
If your car or truck was damaged in a Michigan accident you can recover up to $1,000 from the at-fault driver to use for paying the vehicle damage repair costs. This is called the Michigan Mini Tort law. Normally, the owner of the damaged vehicle makes their Mini Tort claim with the at-fault driver and his insurer. Then, based on the accident report and the damage repair estimate, the at-fault driver’s insurer pays on the claim.
What if They Don't Pay?
Sometimes the at-fault driver and/or his auto insurer will fight the Mini Tort claim hoping that if they make the claim process difficult enough, it will discourage the owner of the damaged vehicle from pursuing it. Other times the other drivers' auto insurer contest whether the other driver was truly at fault. In those situations, the owner of the damaged car or truck can bring their claim for Mini Tort reimbursement by suing in small claims court.
For car or truck accident victims who find themselves headed to small claims court, I have compiled the following list about filing your claim:
1. Where to file
The Michigan No-Fault Law requires that a Mini Tort/small claims lawsuit must be filed in the district court of the county in which the accident occurred or in the district court of the county where the defendant “is established or resides or is employed." (MCL 600.8415(1))
If there is more than one defendant, the Mini Tort/small claims lawsuit must be filed “in the county in which any defendant is established or resides or is employed." (MCL 600.8415(1))
For example, if the driver who caused the accident is not the owner of the car he was driving at the time of the accident, then there may be two defendants, i.e., the driver and the owner. (See MCL 257.401(1): “The owner of a motor vehicle is liable for an injury [to property] caused by the negligent operation of the motor vehicle …")
2. When to file
A Mini Tort lawsuit must be filed within three years of the car or truck accident that caused the vehicle damage for which the Mini Tort recovery is being sought. (MCL 600.5805(10))
3. What to file
To start a Mini Tort lawsuit in small claims, a person must file an “Affidavit and Claim" form with the clerk or deputy clerk of the District Court. (MCL 600.8402(1); MCR Rule 4.302(A))
Here’s a link to the “Affidavit and Claim" form on the Michigan State Court Administrative Office’s (SCAO) website.
In completing the form, a person must: identify herself as the plaintiff; identify the defendant or defendants; state the date on which the accident occurred; state the amount of money damages being sought for the accident-related Mini Tort claim; and, state how the accident occurred and why the defendant (or defendants) is at fault. (MCR Rule 4.302(A))
The original “Affidavit and Claim" form must be filed with the clerk. Additionally, one copy per defendant must also be provided to the clerk. (MCL 600.8402(1)) A plaintiff may also wish to have extra copies file-stamped for her own records.
4. Service on the defendant
Once a person has filed the “Affidavit and Claim" with the clerk, the clerk will see to it that a copy of the affidavit is served on the defendant along with a notice directing the defendant to appear for a hearing. (MCL 600.8404(1); MCR 4.303)
Service of the affidavit on the defendant is generally done by certified mail with return receipt requested or personal service. (MCL 600.8405)
5. Filing fees
The fee for filing a Mini Tort/small claims lawsuit is between $25 and $45 plus the person filing the lawsuit is responsible for the costs associated with serving the affidavit and notice to appear on the defendant. (MCL 600.8420(1)(2) and (6))
However, if the person wins her Mini Tort lawsuit, then the filing fees and costs may be included with damages in the final judgment. (MCL 600.8421)