How is responsibility in Massachusetts determined after a car crash? Who's at fault?For a car accident in Massachusetts, the insurance company that insured the car that you were in at the time of the accident is responsible for paying for your medical bills up to an amount of $2,000 – regardless of fault. If you were not in a car when the accident happened, but were a pedestrian or riding a bicycle, then the first $2,000.00 in medical bills are paid for by the auto insurance company that insured the car that hurt you. This coverage is known as Personal Injury Protection, or "PIP". In the event your medical care exceeds $2,000, those bills greater in excess of that amount are submitted to your health insurance carrier. In the event that you did not have any health insurance when the accident occurred or if your health insurer denies payment for these bills, your "PIP" insurance should cover those bills up to a total of $8,000. An attorney that specializes in auto accident claims can advise you as to the specifics that apply to your situation and assist you with filling out the forms required to submit bills to the appropriate "PIP" carrier.
However, after this compensation for medical bills and/or for cases involving damages, determining fault is an important issue. In fact, it is the most critical element in any car accident claim. The person who caused the accident typically must pay for the damage caused by his or her negligence. In some cases fault is clear; however, if liability is not entirely clear or if there is shared fault, it is up to the insurer's claims adjuster to determine the relative percentages of fault for the parties involved. This is determined based upon witnesses' statements, evidence observed or collected at the scene, the accident report, medical records, recorded statements, etc.
If the adjuster determines that the party making the claim is 51% or more responsible for the accident, they can deny the claim. This is because of "modified comparative negligence," otherwise known as the "51% Rule". This means that an injured party can only recover if they are 49% or less at fault for causing the accident. Once the injured party's level of fault reaches 51%, they are no longer entitled to recovery. Therefore, an insurance adjuster has a strong incentive to justify assigning partial blame to the victim.
For these reasons, in Massachusetts, it is critical that a car accident victim knows his or her rights. Adverse determinations or denials made by an adjuster can be challenged. This is true even if you are the partly at fault. A skilled auto accident attorney can be invaluable in these instances.
Finally, there is insurance called "Uninsured Motorist Insurance" and "Underinsured Motorist Insurance". This type of insurance provides coverage for damages resulting from an accident with someone who either has no insurance or does not have enough insurance to cover your expenses. It also protects you if the other person flees the scene after the accident or is a driver of a stolen car. In Massachusetts uninsured motorist coverage is required in the amount of at least $20,000 per person, $40,000 per accident. In addition, an insurer must offer additional limits of uninsured motorist coverage, up to $35,000 per person, $80,000 per accident (but these limits cannot exceed the limits of optional bodily injury coverage purchased by the insured).
Underinsured motorist coverage is no longer mandatory. However, insurers are required to offer policyholders the option of purchasing underinsured coverage.
For more information on Massachusetts auto accident injuries, read the following articles: