How Do I Know Who Is At Fault in a Massachusetts Car Accident?

Car accidents account for 10% of all civil claims filed in court and are the leading type of personal injury claims filed in Massachusetts and the U.S.  Most car collisions are minor with only property damage, but a significant number do result in injuries, many of which are serious. Although you are entitled to PIP or personal injury protection compensation in Massachusetts, a no-fault state, regardless of who was at fault, you cannot bring an additional claim for injuries and pain and suffering damages against another driver unless you can meet certain thresholds and can prove liability.

If only making a no-fault claim, you can collect up to $8,000 for medical expenses, lost earnings, and other economic loss without having to prove liability. But in order to collect additional compensation, including that for pain and suffering, you must meet one of the following conditions:

  1. Have reasonable and necessary medical expenses in excess of $2,000, or
  2. Suffered fatal injuries, or
  3. Suffered a serious or permanent disfigurement, or
  4. Sustained broken bones, or
  5. Lost vision or hearing, or
  6. Sustained at least partial loss of a body part

Once any one of these conditions are met, then you can bring a claim for damages against the other driver or against your own insurer if an uninsured motorist claim.  Also, your own degree of liability, if any, cannot exceed 50% or you are not eligible to collect any compensation.  If the finder-of-fact determines that you were 40% responsible for the accident for example, any damages you are awarded will be reduced by 40%.

Proof of Liability

There are certain situations where in most cases, an insurer will accept liability by its own insurer. These include:

  • Rear-end collisions
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Colliding with a pedestrian or vehicle while backing up
  • Striking another vehicle or person on the wrong side of the road
  • An out-of-lane collision
  • Making a left turn in front of an approaching vehicle 
  • Operating a vehicle while distracted
  • Hitting a vehicle or pedestrian while making an unlawful U-turn or while another vehicle was approaching in the same or opposite direction 
  • Entering a major roadway from a side road or parking lot
  • Not yielding right-of-way to an emergency vehicle
  • Most rear-end collisions 

You and your lawyer have the burden of proving that the other party was liable by a preponderance of the evidence, or that it was more likely than not that the defendant was at-fault. You can demonstrate fault by the other party through a number of means:

  • Statements of the parties.  If a police officer investigates the accident, s/he will interview the parties and determine whose version was more credible or likely.  The officer can also observe a party’s demeanor and note if the person appears fatigued or under the influence.  Those observations, especially if reduced to writing in a police report, or accident reconstruction report, can later be helpful.  
  • Traffic accident report. This is generally drafted by the investigating officer who will take measurements, observe the vehicles at their point of rest, view the damage, and question any witnesses. Although not always noted, the officer may state that a party violated a certain traffic code and issued a citation.  A traffic violation is considered evidence of negligence though it is not conclusive.  In serious cases, the Massachusetts State Police Accident Reconstruction Team comes in to investigate and write a report.  
  • The officer’s testimony at trial. An officer can testify at trial as to his/her observations of the parties and the scene but cannot make a conclusion as to fault unless the officer can be offered by your car accident attorney and accepted by the court as an expert in accident reconstruction.  However, the officer’s conclusions can form the basis for a settlement offer prior to trial. 
  • Photographs at the scene. If you are able to do so, take photographs of the vehicles, the appearance or condition of the roadway, the other driver, any traffic sign or device relevant to the accident, and any obstructions.  The police, or insurance company’s photographs are often helpful too.  
  • Video surveillance. This can come from a car’s dashcam if available, or from cameras on traffic devices at the location where an accident occurred, evidence that the officer can take and preserve.  If not done, your attorney can investigate to see if videos are available.
  • Accident reconstruction expert. If liability is at issue and damages are serious, your car accident attorney can retain an accident reconstruction expert. 

Retaining a seasoned and highly experienced car accident attorney is vital if your accident has liability issues. 

Damages in Car Accident Injury Claims 

Damages in a car accident claim depend upon the nature and extent of your injuries. These include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Disfigurement or permanent scarring
  • Permanent disability 
  • Emotional distress
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Your compensation is dependent on the severity of your injuries, the extent of your treatment, if you suffered any disability of disfigurement, and the available insurance. Only a veteran car accident attorney can obtain the necessary documentation to present your damages to an insurance adjuster and get you the compensation you deserve.

Retain the Law Office of Burns and Jain

A car accident attorney from Burns and Jain has decades of experience in handling car accident injury claims and can advise you on liability issues. Call our office today at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your injury claim.