Comparative Negligence Law in Massachusetts

In the earlier part of the 20th century, individuals who were injured in an accident had to be totally free from any contributory negligence on their part or they were barred from recovery from another responsible party.  Because so many legitimately and seriously injured persons were denied compensation even if they were minimally at fault, many states, including Massachusetts, changed their laws to a modified version of the contributory negligence standard.

Negligence law, that is personal injury law, consists of several parts.  For injured parties to recover, they must prove by a preponderance of the evidence each of the following elements:

  1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the injured party
  2. The defendant breached his duty of care by failing to abide by or to live up to the standard of care that applies to his action or omission
  3. The breach of care was the proximate cause of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff
  4. The plaintiff sustained an injury and suffered damages 

For example, a driver owes a duty to exercise ordinary care to others on and using the roadway. The driver breaches that duty by driving distracted, intoxicated, speeding, failing to stop for a red traffic signal, or violating other traffic laws.  Should another driver, passenger, or pedestrian suffer a broken limb or head injury as a result of the defendant’s negligent driving, then the law states that the defendant’s act or failure to act was the proximate cause of those injuries.

A store owner also has a duty of care to those who patronize his store by warning customers of any hazards such as a wet or slippery floor and to inspect the premises for any hazards that could be found by an ordinary inspection.  If an object is on the floor or it becomes wet and slippery or hazardous due to a defective step, the owner is given a reasonable time to discover and to remedy the hazard or to post a conspicuous warning to customers.  A failure to do so could be a breach of the store owner’s duty of care to his customers. 

The injured party then has the burden of proving the nature and extent of his injuries and that his medical expenses and care were reasonable and related to the injuries suffered in the accident. But there often situations where a defendant asserts that the plaintiff failed to exercise ordinary care and was at least partially at fault for causing his own injuries. 

What is the Comparative Negligence Law in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts is one of approximately 21 states that have legislated a comparative negligence law where an injured party may collect compensation from a negligent party so long as the plaintiff’s degree of fault is less than 51%.  If it exceeds that, then the plaintiff is barred from any recovery.  Other states allow a plaintiff’s negligent to be as high as 99% and still recover 1% of their damages. 

In the auto accident example, if the injured driver was speeding in a residential area and his vehicle is struck by another car that exited a driveway or store parking lot onto the roadway presumably without first looking for traffic, a finder-of-fact might find that both parties were equally or 50% at fault. In this scenario, the injured party could make an injury claim and recover 50% of his damages. If his damages were $100,000, he would recover $50,000. But if the finder-of-fault decided the injured driver was at least 51% at fault, then he would not recover anything.

In the store incident where a person slips and falls on a defective carpet, the store might have posted a sign, warning customers to not walk in certain aisles or to be aware of a torn carpet.  The injured party notices the sign but fails to see the torn carpet and severely injures her ankle.  A jury could find that the store owner may have warned the customer of the hazard to some degree but that it was foreseeable that a reasonable person exercising ordinary care could have missed observing the torn carpet or that the owner had ample time to at least fix or remove the hazard.  Their decision could find that the injured party was 40% at fault for her own injuries. 

Another aspect of comparative fault in Massachusetts is that it does not apply to a co-plaintiff’s claim for loss of consortium.  A married person whose spouse suffers an injury through the partial fault of another party and who is unable to be intimate with her spouse can bring a loss of consortium claim against the other party and not have her damages lessened by any degree of fault of her spouse. 

Comparative fault can raise complex issues of liability and how much compensation you can obtain for your injuries.  Only an experienced personal injury attorney can properly investigate the facts of your case and make a reasonable argument that dismisses or minimizes your own degree of fault.

Retain a Personal Injury Attorney from Burns and Jain 

In many negligence cases, the involved parties blame the other for the accident.  Both parties might claim they had the green light at an intersection, or that a person who slipped and fell should have noticed the object that caused the fall.  In these cases, a personal injury attorney from Burns and Jain will examine the scene, take statements, note the damage to the vehicles, determine if a warning sign was sufficiently conspicuous and complete, take statements from witnesses, and see if video surveillance footage is available.  We will also gather all documents necessary to demonstrate the extent and severity of your injuries and damages so as to obtain the highest amount that can reasonably compensate you. 

Call us today at (617) 277-7423 for a free consultation about your claim.