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What Happens If I Am at Fault for a Car Accident?

Massachusetts is a no-fault car insurance state, meaning that, assuming you carry the appropriate level of car insurance coverage, you can recover damages regardless of who was at fault for the accident. What this also means is that the law limits victims’ options for recovery via personal injury claims or lawsuits. However, just because Massachusetts adheres to a no-fault-based system does not mean that fault never comes into play. As an MA driver, it is important that you understand the ins and outs of the no-fault car insurance system, as well as how fault can affect your recovery or the other driver’s attempts to recover compensation from you.

Massachusetts’s No-Fault Car Insurance System

Massachusetts is just one of 12 remaining states that follow a no-fault car insurance system. Under no-fault law, your own car insurance coverage — or, more specifically, your personal injury protection, uninsured or underinsured, or medical payments coverage — covers the cost of your medical expenses and other out-of-pocket costs that you incurred in the accident. Your insurance also pays for the losses incurred by other vehicle occupants whom your policy covers. Your insurer must pay up to the coverage limits, even if you were partially or fully at fault for the incident.

It is important to note that no-fault coverage does not cover the cost of non-monetary damages. Non-monetary damages are those that do not come with a clearly defined price tag. For example, a medical bill is an economic damage, as there is no disputing its value. Pain and suffering, on the other hand, is non-economic. You cannot recover compensation for these it — or other non-monetary damages — via a no-fault claim.

Property Damage Is the Exception

As is the case in most other no-fault states, no-fault car insurance coverage only kicks in for personal injuries that arise out of the accident. It does not cover the cost of property damage. What this means for you is that, if the insurers determine you were mostly at fault, the other driver can make a claim against your insurance for vehicle repairs with no limitations.

Stepping Outside of the No-Fault Insurance System

Massachusetts law recognizes that some accidents are so severe that they result in extensive and life-altering injuries. If a person’s injuries meet certain criteria, he or she may step outside of the no-fault insurance system and file a claim against the at-fault driver. This is where a driver’s level of fault comes into play.

Criteria for Stepping Outside of the No-Fault System

For your or the other driver’s injuries to qualify for compensation beyond what you can recoup via your no-fault coverage, the injuries must meet one of two criteria. Those are as follows:

  • The injured person’s reasonable medical expenses must total $2,000 or more; and/or
  • The injuries that arose from the accident must include serious and permanent disfigurement, substantial hearing or vision loss, and/or fractured or broken bones.

If the non-at-fault party’s injuries meet one or both of these requirements, he or she may step outside of the no-fault system and pursue either a third-party insurance claim against the at-fault driver’s insurer or file a personal injury lawsuit. In either situation, the injured party may recover damages across all categories, including pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.

Modified Comparative Negligence in Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Accident Cases

If a situation arises in which either party feels it is necessary to step outside of the state’s no-fault system, modified comparative negligence comes into play. Modified comparative negligence is one of three main theories of fault in a tort-based system. The other two include pure contributory negligence and comparative negligence.

Pure Contributory Negligence

Per the pure contributory negligence theory, the law completely bars plaintiffs from recovering compensation if the courts or insurers find them even slightly at fault for a car accident. This means that if you were 1% at fault, you cannot recover compensation. If the other party were 1% at fault, he or she could not pursue compensation from you. Most states no longer abide by this strict rule.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is almost the exact opposite of pure contributory negligence. In these states, plaintiffs may recover damages even if they assume 99% of the fault for an accident.

Modified Comparative Negligence

States that abide by a modified comparative negligence rule follow one of two versions: The 49% rule or the 50% rule. In states that follow the 49% rule, plaintiffs may recover damages so long their percentage of fault does not exceed 49%. In states that follow the 50% rule, plaintiffs may recover compensation so long as their percentage of fault does not exceed 50%. Massachusetts abides by the 50% rule.

How Modified Comparative Negligence Can Affect Your Recovery

If you do assume some level of fault in your MA car accident, you may not be completely out of luck when it comes to recovering compensation beyond your no-fault coverage. If your level of fault does not exceed 50%, you can collect the amount of compensation to which the law entitles you, less a percentage equivalent to your percentage of fault. Below is an example of what this might look like:

Your total damages amount to $200,000. The jury determines that you were 30% at fault for the accident. Per MA’s comparative fault rule, the courts must diminish your award by 30% of $200,000, or by $60,000. This leaves you with $140,000.

Not only must judges and juries use the state’s comparative fault rule to determine and award damages but also, so must insurance adjusters. Before your case makes it to court, a claims adjuster will use this theory to come up with a proposed settlement.

It is important to note that modified comparative negligence can work against you as well. If you assume the majority of fault for an accident, the other party may sue you for compensation or seek additional damages from your insurance company. Either situation can prove costly for you.

Contact Jason Stone Injury Lawyers

Jason Stone Injury Lawyers understands that a personal injury can create immense financial strain for victims and their families. In order to alleviate that burden, we collect no upfront fee and offer a Stone Cold Guarantee, which ensures that we do not get paid unless you do. To see if you have a claim worth pursuing, contact Jason Stone and team to schedule your initial no-obligation consultation today.