Being involved in a car accident can be a life-altering experience. In Boston, understanding the legal process for seeking compensation is crucial for accident victims. Massachusetts operates as a no-fault car insurance state, meaning that you typically file a claim under your own personal injury protection (PIP) car insurance coverage for medical care bills and financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash.
However, there are situations where you can step outside of the no-fault system and file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. In this article, we’ll provide a detailed and comprehensive guide to help you navigate the complexities of filing a car accident lawsuit in Boston.
Massachusetts No-Fault Car Insurance:
To understand the process fully, it’s essential to grasp Massachusetts’ no-fault car insurance system. In this system, if you’re injured in a car accident, you initially file a claim with your own car insurer, irrespective of fault. This process ensures that injured parties receive prompt compensation. However, it also means that you might not be able to hold the at-fault driver directly responsible, except in specific circumstances.
When Can You Step Outside No-Fault:
The pivotal question is when you can step outside the no-fault system and bring a lawsuit filed directly against the at-fault driver. Typically, this happens when your injuries are severe enough. In such cases, you can file an insurance claim against the at-fault driver’s liability coverage or initiate a lawsuit in Massachusetts court. These avenues allow you to seek compensation for a broader range of losses, often referred to as “damages.”
Compensation Options After a Car Accident:
The compensation you can pursue depends on the seriousness of your injuries and the path you choose—either a PIP car insurance claim or a lawsuit. If you opt for a Massachusetts PIP claim, you can expect compensation for:
- Medical Bills: Coverage for medical treatment expenses resulting from car accident injuries. This may include physical therapy and the discovery process of your injuries.
- Lost Wages: Compensation for up to 75% of lost income due to the accident and resulting injuries.
- Replacement Services: Reimbursement for costs incurred in getting help around the house or with daily tasks.
However, if your injuries meet the criteria for stepping outside the no-fault system, you can claim additional compensation, including:
- Payment of Medical Bills: Complete coverage for accident-related medical expenses.
- Pain and Suffering: Compensation for mental and physical pain and suffering, a category of damages not available in a no-fault/PIP claim.
- Lost Income and Economic Losses: Recovery for lost income and other economic losses related to the accident.
Important Note on Vehicle Damage:
It’s essential to note that Massachusetts’ no-fault car insurance rules apply to car accident injuries and related out-of-pocket losses, but not to vehicle damage. You can always file a claim for vehicle damage against the at-fault driver in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Car Accident Statute of Limitations
Understanding the statute of limitations is crucial when considering a car accident lawsuit. Failing to comply with the filing deadline could result in the dismissal of your case, except in rare exceptions. In Massachusetts, anyone injured in a car accident, whether a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, cyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian, must file their lawsuit within three years of the accident date.
The same deadline applies to lawsuits seeking compensation for vehicle damage. If the accident resulted in a fatality, the executor or administrator of the deceased person must file a wrongful death lawsuit within three years from the date of death, which may differ from the accident date.
To ensure you meet the statute of limitations deadline, it’s advisable to consult with an experienced Massachusetts car accident attorney if it’s approaching.
Comparative Negligence in Massachusetts Car Accident Cases
In cases where both parties share blame for an accident, Massachusetts, United States follows a “modified comparative fault” rule. When a car accident case goes to jury trial, the jury calculates two critical factors based on evidence:
- Total Dollar Amount of Damages: The sum of the plaintiff’s damages, including medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and pain and suffering.
- Percentage of Fault: The proportion of fault assigned to each party involved.
Under the modified comparative fault rule, the plaintiff’s damages award is reduced by the percentage of their share of fault. However, in Massachusetts, the plaintiff’s share of fault must be 50 percent or less to receive any compensation. If the plaintiff’s fault exceeds 50 percent, they receive no compensation (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231 Section 85).
For example, if the jury determines your total damages should be $100,000, but you are found to be 20 percent responsible for the accident, you are entitled to 80 percent of the total, amounting to $80,000. While this still represents a significant sum, it’s essential to understand how comparative negligence can impact your case.
The Role of an Attorney
Navigating the intricacies of filing a car accident lawsuit in Boston can be challenging, especially for those not well-versed in the legal system. An experienced attorney can be an invaluable asset throughout the process. They can:
- Gather Evidence: Attorneys can help collect and organize evidence to support your claim, such as medical records, accident reports, and witness statements.
- Negotiate with Insurance Companies: Attorneys are skilled negotiators who can engage with insurance companies to secure a fair settlement amount on your behalf. They understand the tactics used by insurance adjusters and can protect your rights.
- Represent You in Federal Court: If a settlement offer cannot be reached, your attorney can represent you in court. They’ll build a compelling case and advocate for your rights before a judge and jury.
- Explain the Legal Landscape: Attorneys can help you understand the laws, statutes of limitations, and comparative negligence rules specific to Massachusetts. This knowledge ensures you make informed decisions throughout your case.
- Reporting a Car Accident in Massachusetts: Massachusetts law mandates that any driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage exceeding $1,000 must complete a Motor Vehicle Crash Operator Report form. This report must be filed with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles within five days. Additionally, a copy of the police reports must be sent to the police department with jurisdiction over the accident location.
Filing a car accident lawsuit in Boston involves navigating a complex legal landscape. Understanding Massachusetts’ no-fault system, statutes of limitations, and comparative negligence rules is vital. Seeking legal counsel early in the process can greatly enhance your chances of obtaining the compensation you deserve. If you believe you have a case that merits a compensation award, consult with a qualified Boston car accident attorney to protect your rights and pursue justice.