Protecting Assets After Causing Injuries in Massachusetts

As a Massachusetts personal injury lawyer, we generally represent injury victims:  individuals and families when someone has been injured or wrongfully killed from the negligence of another.

Unfortunately, we often find that the defendants in personal injury cases have insufficient insurance.  In Massachusetts, for example, the minimum motor vehicle insurance policy is $20,000.  This is hardly sufficient when someone is seriously injured, loses wages, and has medical bills.   In addition, may homeowners and small business owners have inadequate insurance coverage.  Further, many professionals, such as lawyers in Massachusetts legal malpractice cases have no insurance!

What I have learned after representing victims since 1985 is how to go after defendants’ personal assets.  The following is how to protect yourself in Massachusetts.

Buy Sufficient Vehicle Insurance

First, buy sufficient motor vehicle insurance.  On our webpage entitled Motor Vehicle Insurance Demystified, we outline Massachusetts vehicle insurance polices.  We can’t overemphasize buying sufficient insurance here.  Cars, trucks and motorcycles are dangerous.  They go fast.  There are people in vehicles, on bicycles and on the streets next to these fast moving vehicles.  To protect your assets, buy the maximum bodily injury and property damage insurance allowed by your insurance company.  To protect yourself and your passengers, buy the maximum underinsurance and uninsurance coverage.

Buy Sufficient Homeowners Coverage

Second, buy the maximum homeowners (or renters) insurance, to protect you from Massachusetts premises liability claims.  This covers you from folks who are injured inside your home, or on your property.  It protects what may be your largest asset:  your home.  Homeowners insurance frequently protects you elsewhere, such as the unintended injury when harming another off your premises.

Buy Sufficient Umbrella Coverage

Third, buy an umbrella insurance policy.  These policies protect you from victims of motor vehicle lawsuits and homeowner lawsuits.  The cost is nominal, however, you must first buy the maximum vehicle and homeowners policy.  We recommend $1 million to most clients; but we note that we have recovered personal assets from defendants who had $1 million in coverage when it just was not sufficient.

Fourth, file a Massachusetts homestead to protect your home from creditors up to $500,000.  Simple, cheap, and legal.  If you want a bigger homestead exemption, move to Florida, like OJ Simpson, where there is unlimited homestead protection for your primary residence.

Fifth, retirement accounts are usually our clients’ second biggest asset.  Generally, they are protected from creditors under federal ERISA laws.  They are also protected inMassachusetts bankruptcy.  Check with the custodian to be sure your plan is protected.  When inheriting IRAs, 401ks or other retirement accounts, talk to your lawyer to be sure you are not losing rights before you transfer ownership.  It’s critical.

When a Claim Is Filed Against You

Fifth, when a claim is filed against you, talk to your insurance company immediately.  Get their professional evaluation, in writing, as to what your exposure is.  They see insurance claims every day.  If they say you have personal exposure, or if you think you may, get your own lawyer who is experienced in personal injury law or Massachusetts motor vehicle injury cases.  He or she will work with the insurance lawyer assigned to your case.  His pressure on the insurance company to resolve the case may be exactly what you need.  We have undertaken this responsibility many times; it works!

Finally, in the event that the above does not cover your assets, or you are concerned that you may be a target for a large lawsuit, you should talk to a lawyer about setting up a trust, or multiple trusts.  Properly drafted and funded, trusts are a valuable planning vehicle for protecting assets.