Have you been seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident recently? Make sure you familiarize yourself with the laws of the State of Massachusetts regarding liability, so you know when or where to file a claim or a legal complaint. A personal injury lawyer can enlighten you on two concepts in the state that are sometimes confused with each other: comparative fault and no-fault laws.
Comparative Fault Laws: Applicable to Personal Injury Cases
The issue of comparative fault applies to many personal injury lawsuits and affects the compensation that you will be awarded if you file a lawsuit for damages. When a person is injured in an auto accident caused by the negligence of another driver, it is sometimes the case that the injured driver was also negligent in a way that contributed to the accident. Since it would not be right for the other driver to pay all of the damages for injuries caused by or contributed to by the injured person himself, states have developed rules for determining whether or how much a person who was comparatively negligent may recover from the other negligent driver. Massachusetts is one of the states that follows the “modified comparative negligence” rule. Under that rule, if the injured driver who is suing for damages is less than 50% at fault in an accident, he is still entitled to a damage award, but his award will be reduced by the percentage that he is found to have been at fault. So if an injured driver wins an award of $10,000 for his injuries, but it is found that the other driver was only 70% at fault and that he himself was 30% at fault, the award is reduced by 30% and he can only collect $7,000. If, however, the injured driver is found to have been 50% or more at fault for the accident, he cannot collect any damage award at all from the other driver, even if the other driver was also up to 50% at fault.
No-Fault Laws: Relevant for Car Accident Injury Claims
No-fault rules are something altogether different. No fault rules in Massachusetts provide that an inured person’s own auto insurance, or that of the person driving the auto in which the person was injured, must pay health care costs and certain other costs up to certain limits, regardless of who is at fault in the accident. A person injured in an auto accident must arrange for no-fault or “PIP” payments by filing a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claim as soon as possible with his own auto insurer or with the insurer of the person who was driving the vehicle in which he was injured. If a person’s medical expenses and lost wages are less than the $2,000 limit that PIP must pay, then the injured person cannot file a claim against the negligent driver or his insurer for other damages, including pain and suffering, unless he sustains serious injuries (i.e. a broken bone or a permanent scar) or permanent disabilities.
If medical costs and lost wages are more than $2,000, the injured person can then file a claim against the negligent driver’s insurer by submitting proof of the accident and damages and demanding payment. Of course, the other driver or his insurer can contest liability in court or during insurance settlements, so an injured person needs to provide strong evidence.
Because the no fault or PIP carrier must pay costs up front, the injured person is required to cooperate with that insurer in order to obtain benefits. The insurer may request written or recorded statements and copies of medical treatment records and bills, as well as an employer statement verifying lost wages. Although the injured person must cooperate with the no fault insurer, he would be well advised to retain an attorney to ensure that he doesn’t inadvertently prejudice any possible claim against the at fault driver’s insurer.
When it comes to dealing with the at fault driver, or more specifically that person’s liability insurer, there is no duty to cooperate. Quite the contrary. Liability carriers will want to limit liability by minimizing the severity of injuries or by trying to find ways to shift blame to the injured person or another driver. You must exercise caution and not rush into a settlement until the full extent of your injuries are determined and other damages are assessed completely, and you will want to have an experienced personal injury attorney acting on your behalf. You will want your settlement or damage award to fully compensate for your injuries.
Legal firms serving the residents of Massachusetts, such as The Law Offices of Terrence A. Low and Anthony J. Canata, have extensive experience handling personal injury cases. A personal injury attorney can provide legal advice for dealing with no fault or PIP insurers and satisfying the requirements to help you avoid costly mistakes. He can also represent you from the time of your injury through any legal proceedings if you need to make a claim for damages against the insurer of the person liable for the injuries and other damages you sustained.
Massachusetts Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules, AllLaw
What is No Fault Insurance and How Does a Claim Work?, AllLaw
Shared Blame: Comparative and Contributory Fault for a Personal Injury, AllLaw