If you’re a Massachusetts resident and you’ve been involved in a car accident, knowing your legal options is important. One key area to understand is how tort claims work in vehicle accidents occurring in Massachusetts. These claims allow victims to seek compensation for their injuries and damages caused by another person or entity’s negligence.
These claims allow victims to seek compensation for their injuries and damages caused by another person or entity’s negligence.

What is a Tort Claim?

A tort claim is a legal way for someone injured to seek compensation from the person or entity responsible for their injuries due to wrongful actions or negligence. In Massachusetts, most tort claims related to motor vehicle accidents arise due to negligence.

Negligence occurs when a driver fails to act with the care that a reasonable person would under similar circumstances, leading to an accident.

Here are some common scenarios where you can file tort claims involving vehicle accidents in Massachusetts:

  • Rear-End Collisions: When a driver gets distracted and fails to stop in time, causing a rear-end collision, the injured party can file a tort claim for damages.
  • Drunk Driving Accidents: When a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs causes an accident, they can be held liable through a tort claim for the injuries and damages.
  • Speeding: When a driver speeds and loses control of their vehicle, leading to a crash that injures another person, the injured party can pursue a tort claim for negligence.

In these cases, you can seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and non-economic damages like pain and suffering.

What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP)?

In Massachusetts, the no-fault insurance system, known as Personal Injury Protection (PIP), provides coverage for medical expenses and lost wages up to $8,000 for both the insured and passengers, regardless of who is at fault in the accident. This system is intended to offer quick financial relief to those injured in vehicle accidents.

However, if you wish to pursue further compensation for pain and suffering or other damages beyond the limits of PIP, you need to meet specific criteria referred to as the tort threshold.

What is the Massachusetts Tort Threshold?

Massachusetts law sets a specific standard for filing tort claims in motor vehicle accidents, known as the tort threshold. According to Massachusetts law, specifically G.L. c. 231, § 6D, you must meet certain criteria before you can claim damages for pain and suffering. These include:

  • Medical Expenses Over $2,000: If your reasonable and necessary medical expenses exceed $2,000, you can file a tort claim.
  • Severe Injuries: You can also file a claim if the accident results in:
    1. Death
    2. Loss of a body part
    3. Permanent and serious disfigurement
    4. Loss of sight or hearing
    5. Fractures

These criteria ensure that only significant injuries go beyond the basic no-fault insurance system.

How to Determine Liability in Tort Claims for Motor Vehicle Accidents in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, determining liability in motor vehicle accidents revolves around the concept of negligence. Here’s how it works:

  1. Duty: The driver must have a legal duty to act with care towards others on the road.
  2. Breach: The driver breaches this duty by acting (or failing to act) in a way that a reasonably prudent person would not.
  3. Causation: The breach of duty directly causes an accident.
  4. Damages: The accident results in actual damages, such as injuries or property damage​.

Massachusetts follows a modified comparative negligence rule. This means if you are partially at fault for the accident, your compensation reduces by your percentage of fault. However, if you are more than 50% at fault, you cannot recover any damages​.

Types of Damages in Tort Claims

When you file tort claims after vehicle accidents in Massachusetts, you can seek two main types of damages:

  • Economic Damages: These include tangible costs such as lost wages, medical expenses and property damage. For example, if the accident caused you to incur significant medical bills or miss work, you can claim compensation for these financial losses.
  • Non-Economic Damages: These cover intangible losses like pain and suffering, loss of consortium and emotional distress.
    1. Pain and suffering refer to the physical and mental anguish you endure due to the accident, whereas emotional distress covers psychological impacts like anxiety or depression.
    2. Loss of consortium involves the impact on your relationship with your spouse or family​.

In specific cases, such as medical malpractice, there might be caps on the amount you can claim for non-economic damages.

The Claims Process

To build a strong case for vehicle accident tort claims in Massachusetts, follow these steps:

  1. Seek Medical Care: Your health should be your top priority. Prompt medical attention also ensures that your injuries are documented.
  2. Gather Evidence: Collect as much information as possible about the accident. This includes photos of the scene, witness statements, and police reports.
  3. Contact an Attorney: A lawyer can guide you through the legal process and help you understand your rights and options.

When seeking compensation for a car accident in Massachusetts, it’s important to distinguish between filing an insurance claim and pursuing a personal injury lawsuit:

  • Insurance Claim: After an accident, you typically file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The insurer will investigate and may offer a settlement.
  • Personal Injury Lawsuit: If the insurance settlement is insufficient, you can file a lawsuit to seek full compensation for your damages. This involves taking the case to court where a judge or jury will decide the outcome​

Insurance adjusters evaluate your claim and decide how much the insurance company should pay. They review the evidence, assess the damages, and determine liability. The settlement process involves negotiating with the adjuster to reach a fair compensation amount. You must have an attorney during this process to receive a fair settlement.

What are the Challenges in Tort Claims

In Massachusetts, filing a tort claim after a car accident can be challenging. You might encounter various obstacles such as:

Proving Negligence

One of the biggest hurdles is proving the other driver was negligent. To do this, you need to show:

  • Duty: The driver had a responsibility to act safely.
  • Breach: They failed in that duty by being careless.
  • Causation: Their carelessness directly caused the accident.
  • Damages: You suffered injuries or property damage as a result.

It is important to gather evidence like police reports, witness statements and medical records to prove the other driver’s negligence and support your claim​.

Meeting the Tort Threshold

In Massachusetts, to file a tort claim for pain and suffering, your medical expenses must exceed $2,000 or you must have severe injuries as discussed above. If you don’t meet these criteria, you can’t claim for pain and suffering, limiting your compensation.

Dealing with Insurance Companies

Insurance companies often try to minimize their payouts. They might:

  • Deny Your Claim: They may say you don’t have enough evidence.
  • Offer Low Settlements: They might give you a low offer hoping you’ll accept it quickly.
  • Delay the Process: They might drag out the claims process to pressure you into settling.

These tactics can be frustrating and overwhelming. Knowing how to deal with them is key to getting fair compensation.

Why is Legal Representation Important?

Having an experienced tort claims lawyer at your side can make a significant difference by:

  • Gathering Evidence: They know what information is crucial and how to get it.
  • Negotiating with Insurers: They can handle tough negotiations to get you a better settlement.
  • Meeting Legal Requirements: They ensure your claim meets all the necessary legal standards.

A lawyer guides you through the process, helping you understand your rights and options, and improving your chances of a successful claim.

Conclusion

What are your biggest challenges in building a successful tort claim right now? Are you able to prove negligence or negotiate effectively with insurance companies? These are complex tasks that often require professional assistance.

If you’re struggling with these issues, you don’t have to face them alone. Our experienced, Western Massachusetts-based tort claims lawyers are here to help. Reach out to us for a Free Consultation to discuss how we can assist you in proving the negligence of a third party and negotiating an optimal settlement for your vehicle accident in Massachusetts.

To build a winning case, time is of the essence. So contact us today to take the first step towards securing the compensation you deserve.

Sources:

https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartIII/TitleII/Chapter231/Section6D
https://law.justia.com/codes/massachusetts/2021/part-iii/title-ii/chapter-231/section-6d/
https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/massachusetts-car-accident-laws.html

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