Driving in Boston can be a harrowing experience. Famous for colorful local driving habits (think: the "Boston Left") and creative urban planning, even the most seasoned Bostonian runs into trouble at times. If you or someone you know has been in a car accident in Boston, consult the guide below so that you can cover your legal bases.
Got Auto Insurance?
The first thing you need to know is that everyone driving a car registered in Massachusetts should have auto insurance. Massachusetts requires proof of auto insurance with registration. Insurance policies must include certain types of coverage:
- Bodily Injury to Others (minimum $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident);
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP) (minimum $8,000 per person, per accident);
- Bodily Injury Caused by an Uninsured Auto (minimum $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident);
- Damage to Someone Else's Property ($5,000 per accident).
Because Massachusetts requires this minimum insurance coverage and expects people driving in Boston and around the state to have auto insurance, the state only allows personal injury car accident lawsuits for injuries costing over $2,000 per person, unless the injured party sustained a fracture or damage to their hearing or sight.
If someone involved in your Boston car accident has been injured, she should put a claim in with the insurance company of the car she was in at the time of the accident. Regardless of fault, the insurer is responsible for paying personal injury expenses up to $2,000 (and up to $8,000 if the injured person does not have medical insurance) for each individual in the insured vehicle.
But who pays for the more serious injuries and damage done in your accident? That brings us to the issue of determining fault.
Who's at Fault? The 51% Rule
Liability for a car accident is based on the legal theory of negligence. A driver has a duty to operate his vehicle with reasonable care. If he fails in this duty and an accident occurs as a result, he is considered negligent, at fault, and liable for the resulting damages.
Many times, however, more than just one driver or individual is at fault in a car accident. Who's liable for the damage that occurs from an accident when more than one person is at fault? In Boston, the answer is governed by Massachusetts law, which says that the insurance company's claims adjuster should determine percentage of fault of the parties involved. If the party who is making the claim against the insurance company is 51% or more at fault, the insurer may deny the claim.
In certain situations, fault is presumed under Massachusetts law. For example, a driver is presumed to be more than 50% at fault if:
- The driver hits a car that's parked, whether lawfully or unlawfully;
- The driver rear-ends another vehicle;
- The driver is driving partially or completely out of the proper lane and is in a collision while passing, being passed or changing lanes, as long as the other car is in its proper lane;
- The driver is in a collision while failing to signal before turning or changing lanes;
- The driver fails to obey traffic signs or fails to proceed with caution.
The list continues. When making determinations of fault, a claims adjuster will use any evidence available to make the determination, including statements from witnesses, the accident report, evidence collected at the scene, and medical records and reports. That's why it's very important for you to follow the steps outlined in FindLaw's article After a Car Accident: First Steps if you find yourself in a car accident in Boston or elsewhere. Taking these first steps should ensure that you have all of the documentation you require in order to make your claim.
What If the Insurer Denies Your Claim?
If an insurer denies your claim for damages, you may appeal the decision. All insurance policies have an appeals process. Start by calling the insurance company and asking why your claim was denied. Take your concerns to the highest level possible and ask for access to all documentation and evidence used to make the claims decision before you file an appeal. Check out FindLaw's article Insurance Claims After an Accident for more details.
If your efforts to work with the insurer and your internal appeals have failed, file a complaint against the insurer with the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, which monitors the licensing and business practices of insurance agency's and businesses operating in the state. Then consider whether it makes sense to hire a local attorney to file a legal claim against the insurer. Many attorneys will give you a free consultation to assess whether your legal claim is worth pursuing.
What if No One Involved Has Auto Insurance?
If you're involved in a car accident and neither you nor any other party involved is insured, you still have options for recouping your losses if the accident wasn't your fault.
It's important to follow the steps listed in FindLaw's article After a Car Accident: First Steps even if you're uninsured. The more documentation you have of the accident, the better your position moving forward.
First, try to negotiate with the other parties involved. This is where documentation of the accident, statements from witnesses, medical records, and other evidence are important. If another party admitted fault in the accident, ask them to put their statement in writing and sign it. Someone who is clearly at fault may offer to pay for some of the damage you've incurred out of pocket.
Since it's unlikely that someone who is uninsured will be willing or able to pay for your expenses out of pocket, you may need to consider taking legal action against the party at fault in your accident. There are many personal injury attorneys in Boston who are willing to take your car accident case on a contingency basis, especially if you have documentation and evidence that another party was more than 50% at fault for the accident.
Now that you know the basics of your Boston car accident, check out FindLaw's section in Learn About the Law on Car Accidents for more information.
Consider Getting Legal Help With Your Boston Car Accident
We get it. You have a lot on your plate, including calls with the insurance company and trips to the body shop to fix the damage. But if you've been injured or believe your needs weren't being met after getting in an accident, you may need to work with an attorney. Contact an experienced Massachusetts motor vehicle accident lawyer today.