Robin is driving down the street in New Bedford when she is hit by another driver who was pulling out of a parking space. Robin thought she was keeping to the speed limit, although at the scene the other driver accused her of driving too fast. Robin felt immediate back pain as soon as the collision occurred.
Robin goes home, takes a couple of aspirin, and decides to take it easy for a while. Robin’s back keeps hurting, and so after a week she sees her general practitioner, who tells her that she has a lumbar sprain/strain. She tells Robin to rest and that, if Robin isn’t better in two weeks, she should go to physical therapy. Robin does end up in physical therapy. for a month's worth of treatment. After that, she is feeling 80% better. She keeps doing exercises at home, and, six months later, feels fully recovered from her car accident injuries. Robin is a computer programmer. She missed one week of work due to the accident.
The first thing that Robin should do is report the incident to her own car insurance company, and to the insurer of the driver that hit her. If Robin delays, the insurance adjuster may think that Robin isn't hurt all that badly, even though she was, or that the accident didn't necessarily happen the way Robin says it did.
Under Massachusetts law, Robin may also be legally obligated to report the accident to the proper authorities. Learn more: Do I need to report a car accident in Massachusetts?
Even though Massachusetts is a no-fault car insurance state, Robin needs to be aware of Massachusetts’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Massachusetts, if you were injured in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state’s courts. If you are only filing a property damage claim, the statute of limitations is still three years.
is this law so important? If you’re allowed to step outside of
Massachusetts’s no-fault insurance system and make a claim against the
driver who caused the accident, but you don’t file a lawsuit within the
time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is over unless
you fall within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the
clock. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case
well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to
contact an Massachusetts car accident lawyer. (Learn more about Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process.)
If Robin is able to file a lawsuit against the other driver (rather than simply making a no-fault claim under her own insurance coverage), and the case makes it to trial, she needs to be aware of her state's rules on shared fault. The other driver could claim that Robin was negligent for driving too fast down the street. This is especially important in a case like Robin’s, where proving liability may be difficult because of the conflicting stories by the two drivers.
Massachusetts has what is called a “modified comparative fault” rule. Under this rule, your total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is yours. If you are found to bear any amount of blame for the accident, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault, up to a certain point. If, for example, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found 25% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $75,000. However, if you were found to be 50% or more at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever.
Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Massachusetts’s car insurance laws, as well as no-fault coverage. In Massachusetts, a driver is only required to carry bodily injury liability coverage in the amount of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident, property damage liability coverage in the amount of $5,000 per accident, and personal injury protection (PIP or no-fault coverage) in the amount of $8,000 per accident.
The no-fault law means that, if you are injured in a car accident in Massachusetts, you typically need to handle any claim under the terms of your own no-fault coverage. You can’t ordinarily make a claim against the other driver unless your injuries and medical treatment exceed the minimum limits of the Massachusetts no-fault law.
In Robin’s case, let’s assume that her injuries are serious enough to permit her to make a liability claim against the other driver. Her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $7,500. The breakdown looks like this:
Robin and her attorney decide that another $12,500 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Robin’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $32,000 to settle the claim. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Robin accepts a final settlement of $15,000.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the three-year statute of limitations time period runs out. But you also don’t want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI.
In Robin’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.