It's your day off and you're just dying to get to the Top Fun Aviation Toy Museum. You can't think of a more perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon than test flying your very own balsa glider. Although, it might rival last month's hot and fiery Blacksmith Festival, a virtual wrought-iron jubilee.
As you are driving down Mechanic Street, moments away from the wonder and magic of your aeronautical adventure, a guy on a motorcycle cuts you off. You slam on your brakes and suddenly get rear-ended by the SUV behind you.
What's next? Do you have to stop? Where are the police? Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you be in a car accident in the Worchester County area.
What to Do at the Scene
Stop. Stop. Stop. It's the law. If you leave the scene of an accident you could be charged with hit-and-run and face severe penalties. Alright, so what do you have to do? First, render "reasonable assistance" to those in need. This doesn't mean you have to personally lift up a burning car with your newfound super-human strength, but you need to call 911 for help if it's needed. Also, you are required to exchange insurance information with the other driver.
What information should I gather at the scene?
Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver-your name and driver's license number, the vehicle identification number of the car you are driving, the name and address of the car's owner, the name and address of your insurance company and your insurance policy number. You may wish to collect contact information for:
- Other car's owner
- Any passengers in the other car
- Any witnesses to the accident
Consider making note of traffic and weather conditions. Draw a simple diagram of the collision scene and/or take photographs if you are able.
What if I'm also at fault?
Automobile accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle components, poorly maintained roads, or badly installed parts.
Remember, it's important not to volunteer any information about who you think was to blame for the accident. Generally you should not agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Our most important tip: always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
To win your car accident case in court, you will need to prove the other driver was negligent. Massachusetts uses a 50 percent modified comparative negligence standard. Basically the amount of money you can recover from an at-fault driver is affected by whether or not you were also partially at fault for the accident. If the judge or jury determines you were more than 50 percent at fault, you will not be able to recover anything. Harsh, but true.
What does my car insurance cover?
As a Fitchburg driver, you have to carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage. Massachusetts is also one of several states with a no-fault insurance program. No-fault automobile insurance is designed to cover any injuries you sustain as a result of the accident provided you were not intoxicated by drugs or alcohol or engaged in other criminal behavior. It doesn't matter who is at fault. Your own insurance company will pay out of pocket for personal injuries up to the policy limits.
This means you don't have to sue the other party's insurance company to take care of medical bills and other resulting damages such as lost wages. Simply contact your own insurance carrier and make a claim.
- "No Fault" coverage: $8000 per person, per accident
- Bodily injury caused by an uninsured driver: $20,000 per person, $40,000 per accident
- Bodily injury to others: $20,000 per person, $40,000 per accident
- Damage to someone else's property: $5,000 per accident
Reporting the Accident to the Registry of Motor Vehicles
Massachusetts requires you to file a Motor Vehicle Crash Operator Report within five days of the accident in the following scenarios?even if law enforcement was at the scene:
- $1000 or more in of damages
After the Crash: Dealing with Insurance Companies
As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. Your carrier will open an investigation and a claims adjuster will contact you and do any or all of the following:
- Request a copy of the police report
- Take photographs of your car
- Contact the other driver(s)
- Talk to any witnesses
- Ask you to sign a medical release form to review your records
- Contact your medical provider
- Request for you to get estimates on vehicle damage
Should I just settle?
Ultimately, that's your decision. After an investigation, the insurance company will most likely attempt to reach a settlement agreement with you depending on the type of damages you are claiming such as personal injury or property. You are not required to accept any settlements from an insurance carrier. If you can't reach an agreement with the adjuster, you may have other options, such as appealing, or initiating a lawsuit.
If you aren't sure what to do, a lawyer may be able to help. Many attorneys take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement is considered a "win" and plaintiffs will have to pay attorney's fees out of that amount.
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Here's a list of courthouses in the Fitchburg area.