Car accidents range in terms of severity, with some car accidents resulting in catastrophic and life-changing injuries and most resulting in little more than whiplash, cuts and bruises. Some car accidents are so minor that they do not cause injuries at all.
If you are one of the lucky ones who walked away from your accident with little more than property damage to show for it, you likely have no grounds on which to sue the other party. However, as with most aspects of the law, exceptions may exist. An experienced Massachusetts car accident attorney can help you understand your rights and identify what, if any, paths to recovery exist.
Injury Is One Element You Must Establish To Have a Car Accident Lawsuit in MA
If you hope to file a car accident lawsuit for damages in Massachusetts, you must establish negligence on behalf of the other party. To establish negligence, you must prove that five essential elements exist:
- Duty to you
- Breach of duty
- Causation (the defendant’s negligence caused the accident that resulted in your damages)
As you can see, injury is an essential element of negligence. Without it, you do not have a negligence claim, which means you do not have a lawsuit. In other words, if you do not sustain any injury of any kind in your accident — meaning, not so much as a bruise — you may be annoyed, but you do not have grounds for a lawsuit.
When Your Injury Is Minor
What if, however, you did sustain minor injuries, such as whiplash, back pain, cuts, bruising and other injuries that typically require little more than at-home care? Again, it is unlikely that you have grounds for a lawsuit. If you require medical attention for minor injuries, chances are that your no-fault insurance policy will cover the cost of care and treatment. Because you will likely pay nothing out-of-pocket for the care of these injuries, you do not have grounds to file a lawsuit. This is because the “damages” element does not exist. If you do have to pay out of pocket for your minor injuries, the amount may be so minimal that it would make little to no sense for you to fund a costly and lengthy lawsuit.
Your No-Fault Policy Is Your First Path to Recovery
Massachusetts is a no-fault car insurance state. What this means is that, regardless of who is at fault for an incident, the first path of recovery will always be through your own car insurance policy. Through your own policy, you can file a claim for medical expenses, property damages and other costs associated with the crash. That said, Massachusetts law does provide for the option to sue the at-fault party if your injury meets one of two thresholds:
- Your injuries cost you more than $2,000 in reasonable medical costs, or
- Your injuries are severe and permanent, and your medical doctor anticipates they will adversely affect your quality of life going forward. Severe and permanent injuries may include complete or partial loss of a body part, disfigurement, broken bones, vision or hearing loss, or the death of a loved one.
Again, to qualify for a lawsuit, you must establish the existence of an injury. If you have no injuries to show for the accident, you do not meet either of the two thresholds and, therefore, your case does not qualify for a lawsuit.
Paying for Property Damage
It is possible that, despite your walking away from the accident unharmed, your vehicle sustained considerable damage. It is important to note that Massachusetts’s no-fault policies do not cover the cost of property damage.
By law in Massachusetts, vehicle owners must purchase four types of auto insurance coverage:
- Bodily injury to others
- Personal injury protection
- Personal injury caused by an uninsured driver
- Property damage
The final type of coverage helps you, the insured, pay for damages caused by your covered vehicles regardless of who is driving at the time of a crash. At a minimum, all Massachusetts drivers must carry $5,000 in property damage coverage.
If your vehicle sustained considerable damage in your crash, you would file a claim first against the at-fault party’s policy. If the at-fault party’s property damage policy limit is $5,000, though, it may not be enough to cover the full cost of repairs. In this case, you have one of three options:
- Pay for the remainder of the repair costs out of pocket
- File a claim against your collision coverage policy, if you had the foresight to purchase such an add-on
- File a claim for damages with small claims court
Suing in Small Claims Court for Damages
If you cannot afford to pay for the remainder of damages out of pocket, and if you do not have collision coverage, you may be able to sue the at-fault driver in small claims court for the remainder of the repair costs. Small claims court in Massachusetts will only hear claims with values of $7,000 or less — unless the action involves a claim for property damages sustained in a motor vehicle accident. In such a case, you can file a claim for the remainder of your repair bill.
Considerations Before Filing a Claim in Small Claims Court
Suing the at-fault party for property damages in small claims court has the potential to be a smart move on your part. However, before you proceed with legal action, there are three important considerations to make.
The first is that you must pay a filing fee of between $40 and $150, depending on the type and extent of damages you wish to pursue. The second is that you have three years from the date of your crash to file the claim. However, you may also have to file an advance notice of claim, which typically has a much shorter statute of limitations.
The third and final — and perhaps most significant — consideration is that the at-fault party may have neither the money nor assets to cover the remaining costs of vehicle repairs. If this is the case, there is little the courts can do to enforce the payment of an award.
Suing for Emotional Duress
Though prevailing in such a case may prove difficult — especially without the guidance and support of a skilled personal injury attorney — you may be able to file a claim for the Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress. An NIED claim is one that arises in response to the emotional or mental injury that another party’s negligence or recklessness causes. NIED claims are difficult to prove and require you to prove the existence of three elements:
- Impact, which requires the plaintiff to come into contact with any aspect of the defendant’s negligence, such as via one vehicle striking another
- Proximity to the danger zone
- Foreseeability, which means the defendant knew his or her actions had potentially negative consequences
You must also establish emotional duress. If you can establish the essential elements and prove emotional anguish, you may have an NIED case.
Consult With an Experienced Attorney
If you were involved in a car crash that did not result in any physical injuries, it may not hurt to, at the very least, consult with a personal injury attorney. When you turn to Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, you get the Stone Cold Guarantee, and that is you can get a no-fee consultation. With us, there is no obligation, just information. If you think you may have a case, contact us to receive your free, immediate free case evaluation.
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