Identifying Fault and Liability after Massachusetts Traffic Accidents

A series of fatal car accidents in Boston illustrate the many common issues victims face in seeking compensation for damages.

CBS Boston reported a police officer suffered serious injury in a 3-car crash in Worcester. In a separate incident, one man was killed in a 3-car crash in Auburn that occurred during a police pursuit.

Several fatal crashes have involved young drivers, including the death of a 16-year-old driver in a crash on Interstate 93 in Andover.GlassmanTeamLogo

Our Boston car accident lawyers know each of these collisions involved unique circumstances but are illustrative of the road risks we all face as we head into the height of the summer travel season in New England.

Recovering Damages after a Boston Car Accident

For most people, being involved in a serious or fatal traffic accident will be among the most traumatic times of their life. The few simple steps you should take are readily available from any number of sources, but thinking clearly in the immediate aftermath of a serious collision is often not possible. One option would be to print out our FAQ section, What to Do After a Car Accident, and put it in your glove compartment.

However, understanding “why” is perhaps the best defense when it comes to making decisions after a collision. Know that, without the assistance of an experienced car accident lawyers in Boston, you are truly alone. The police, while impartial, may get the facts and circumstances correct, or may make errors or incorrect assumptions. The other driver, even if understanding and considerate, whether at-fault or the victim, is also largely powerless. The only real experts in the equation are representatives of your insurance company and the insurance companies of other vehicles involved in the collision.

And, unfortunately, they are not on your side.

So your responsibilities rest with yourself and come down to two primary functions: Document the scene and protect yourself. Stop. Report the Crash. Accept medical treatment. Exchange information with drivers and witnesses. Stay safe at the scene and cooperate with law enforcement. Document the accident scene (including photographs). Notify your insurance company. And consult an experienced Boston personal injury lawyer. While your insurance policy likely requires you to report an accident to your insurer, understand that the collision may well result in a lawsuit against your own insurance company, so speaking with an experienced car accident lawyer is best done before making any additional statements, even to your own automobile insurance company.

Identifying Liable Parties after Massachusetts Traffic Collisions

Understanding how to identify liable parties may also assist you in determining where to focus your efforts when it comes to gathering evidence and documenting causes and consequences of the crash.

Most commonly, those responsible for compensating victims of motor vehicle collisions include:

  • At-fault drivers: Understand this may include drivers other than those police identify as being responsible. M.G.L. Ch. 231 Sec. 85 outlines Massachusetts law on comparative fault and contributory negligence. The law permits recovery from any party who shared blame and even allows for partial recovery by a victim who is found partially at fault, or even criminal charged, reading in part: “The violation of a criminal statute, ordinance or regulation by a plaintiff which contributed to said injury, death or damage, shall be considered as evidence of negligence of that plaintiff, but the violation of said statute, ordinance or regulation shall not as a matter of law and for that reason alone, serve to bar a plaintiff from recovery.” Additionally, Massachusetts laws on joint and several liability means blame may be shared proportionally by all defendants, without regard to percentage of fault, Ann L. Mass. Ch. 231B, § 1;Zeller v. Cantu, 478 N.E.2d 930 (Mass. 1985), which makes identifying all parties responsible critical to obtaining adequate damages.
  • Insurance companies: While most people know an at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for paying damages, far fewer understand that interaction with their own insurance company may significantly impact their ability to collect damages. In addition to bodily injury liability coverage and property damage coverage (both of which are in place to protect other drivers in the event you are found responsible for a collision) Massachusetts auto insurance law requires all drivers to carry minimum uninsured motorist coverage of at least $20,000 per person/$40,000 per incident. This coverage is meant to provide coverage in the event one or more at-fault parties do not have auto insurance. While Massachusetts is not among the states that require underinsured motorist coverage (which protects you in a collision with a motorist who does not have enough insurance to pay all damages), many motorists carry this coverage as well. Consequently, one of your best options for recovering monetary compensation after a motor vehicle collision may well be your own insurance company.
  • Employers: Those injured in a traffic collision on the job are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Those who are injured by an at-fault driver who is on the job, may have a claim against the employer.
  • Other drivers: Just because an involved driver is not blamed or cited by law enforcement, does not mean he or she cannot be held financially responsible. Seeking statements or contact information from witnesses can be vital. Taking photographs can also be vital, particularly when signs of distraction like open food and drinks, or activated entertainment equipment, is visible.
  • Parents: In many circumstances, parents may be held liable for traffic accident involving minor children.
  • Municipalities: In cases of dangerous or defective roads, missing or inoperable streetlights, or other unaddressed dangers, a motorist may also have a claim against a government, municipality, property owner or homeowner’s association. While such entities can be held responsible for negligence, or for the negligent or dangerous acts of employees, such cases are legally complex, particularly when it comes to suing municipalities or government entities. The municipal cap on liability in Massachusetts in $100,000, except in cases where victims can prove actions of a municipal agent were reckless as well as negligent. A public employer can be held liable for the negligence of its employees while acting within the scope of their employment. G.L. c. 258, §2. However, there are many exemptions to the law, which aim to protect municipalities from defending common causes of action that would create a financial burden on cites.

Understanding that identifying all of the defendants potentially responsible for paying damages can help best direct your efforts after a serious collision.

If you are injured in an accident in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.