“Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Though the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go”
(“Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor)
The holiday season is filled with travelers from the North Shore to 128, to the “Pike” and to Western Massachusetts. Trips to the store for decorations and presents; meeting with friends and family for gatherings and holidays parties; or maybe even an early season ski or snowboarding weekend. Everyone is out and about, checking off that last present or visiting family.
Not only do we have to worry about traffic, but the holiday season also marks the beginning of winter weather. Snow, ice and wintery mixes of precipitation cause the roads to become slick and decrease on-road visibility. The mix of holiday traffic and winter weather results in a prime situation for car accidents.
If you are in that unfortunate situation, there are two important considerations we suggest you keep in mind: 1) Liability (who is at fault) and 2) Damages (your injuries).
Massachusetts is commonly referred to as a “no-fault” state. “No-fault” means that your auto insurance company must pay and/or reimburse you for the “necessary medical, surgical, x-ray, and dental services” for injuries suffered in the car accident, and for your lost wages, without regard to who caused the accident. M.G.L. ch. 90, § 34A. That means, for example, if you are involved in a T-bone accident when leaving the North Shore Mall at Rt 128 and Rt 114 in Peabody, your insurance company must pay your reasonable medical expenses and lost wages—no matter who’s at fault.
However there are strict limits on the maximum payments under no-fault. If the insured has medical insurance, the car insurance company only has to pay up to $2,000.00; with no medical insurance, the insurer must pay up to only $8,000.00. Under no-fault these are the maximum payments for medical care and are paid without regard to who caused the accident.
But what happens if your injuries result in medical bills or lost wages over the $2,000.00/$8,000.00 thresholds?
If your injuries cause you to miss work, need a doctor, incur hospital bills, and pain and suffering, you may still be able to sue the other driver to recoup costs associated with your injuries. In order to go after the other driver you must first determine who is liable for the car accident, i.e., who is at fault. Fault is generally determined by whether or not the driver was negligent.
Massachusetts follows what is called a modified comparative negligence standard. M.G.L. ch. 231, § 85. That means that whoever is 51% responsible for the accident is deemed to have caused the accident. A driver who is 51% responsible is not legally permitted to recover his or her injuries or damages from the accident, against the other driver. But, if you were 50% or less at fault you can seek to recover for your injuries and damages, over and above the $2,000.00/$8,000.00 no-fault amounts.
Damages are based on the injuries you sustained because of the accident. Damages may include: a) pain and suffering; b) medical bills; c) hospital costs, d) ambulance charges, e) lost wages; f) permanent scarring; and g) effect on your personal life.
It is important to keep track of how much time you lose at work, money paid to cover your medical expenses (by you or your health insurance), and to keep a daily journal on how the accident has impacted your life.
If you are involved in a car accident this holiday season, a personal injury attorney can help you navigate a claim with your insurance company for no-fault and then assist you in evaluating your claim against the other driver for your injuries and damages.