Massachusetts is a comparative fault state when it comes to law suits to recover damages for a personal injury. Whether negotiating a claim with an insurance company or pursuing a lawsuit in court, your settlement award or damage award may be reduced if you were also partly at fault for the accident that caused your injury.
The law of comparative negligence varies from state to state. The law has long recognized as a defense to a personal injury lawsuit the argument that the person who was injured was also negligent in a way that contributed to the resulting injury. The doctrine is generally called contributory negligence. Originally contributory negligence was a complete defense: a plaintiff who was found to be even 1% at fault was barred from recovering any damages from the defendant even if the defend was 99% at fault.
Massachusetts is one of the many states that have modified the rule of contributory negligence and today follow what is known as the comparative fault rule. According to the Massachusetts rule, when a defense of comparative negligence is raised, the finder of fact must determine who was at fault and to what degree. If a plaintiff is found more than 50% at fault, he is not entitled to collect any damages. But if he is found to be 50% or less at fault, the court will reduce any award of damaged by the percentage that he was found at fault. For instance, if you suffered an injury after tripping over a broken floor tile on a shopping mall because you were busy looking at the displays, you may be at 10 percent fault and the mall found 90% at fault. In that case, if it was determined that your damages were $10,000, then your award would be reduced to $9,000.
This version of the comparative fault rule states that the damages an injured person is entitled to will be reduced if he shares less than 50 percent of the fault, and will be eliminated completely if he shares 50 percent or more of the fault. Typically, Massachusetts courts will apply the comparative fault rule once the injury lawsuit enters the trial stage, with the liability findings and jury awards are entered into the record. At some instances, this rule may come up during an insurance settlement negotiation, thus it’s best to seek help from an injury lawyer as soon as possible.
Comparative Fault Rule and the No Fault Motor Vehicle Accident Rule
The comparative negligence rule applies to personal injury cases arising out of motor vehicle accidents just as it does in other personal injury cases. Be careful not to confuse the comparative negligence rule of damages with the “no-fault” or “PIP” protections built into the standard auto insurance policy.
In you are an insured driver in Massachusetts, your policy covers certain out of pocket costs for you and certain other people who are injured in a motor vehicle accident, regardless of who is at fault. You and other persons covered under this provision can seek payment from your auto insurance company for medical bills, lost wages and other expenses up to $8,000, regardless of who was at fault for the said accident.
But the PIP coverage under an auto insurance policy is a separate rule that has no bearing on the doctrine of comparative fault.
To be sure that you understand your rights in a personal injury accident, seek help from a personal injury attorney in Massachusetts, like those working with the Law Offices of Terrence A. Low and Anthony J. Canata.
Massachusetts Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules, AllLaw
Shared Blame: Comparative and Contributory Fault for a Personal Injury, AllLaw
What is No Fault Insurance and How Does a Claim Work?, AllLaw
Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Torts: Liability and Litigation, Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.