Massachusetts Auto Accident Laws & Resources
From Gloucester to Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts has many miles of road that you can explore if you visit or live here. These many roads will take you to historic downtown Boston, Cape Cod, to the Berkshire Mountains as well as the Charles River. The busy roads of Massachusetts are used by at least 4.6 million drivers every day, who average 9,000 miles per year of driving. During those travels, Massachusetts drivers are involved in thousands of minor and serious auto accidents. Some of them even result in serious injuries and fatalities. Wherever you are driving in the Bay State, it is important to know the laws and regulations of Massachusetts. If you are ever in an accident, you will know what you need to do, and how you can secure potential compensation for your injuries.
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Statistics and Notable Car Accident Lawsuits
According to 2016 statistics, deaths from auto accidents in the Bay State grew significantly. This continued a troubling increase that safety advocates think is being caused by distracted driving from cell phone use.
It was estimated 399 people died in car accidents in 2016. This was 13% higher than the 354 killed the year before, and 15% higher than the 348 killed in 2014.
Experts say a better economy and cheaper gas are part of the reason there are more traffic fatalities.
According to Highway Safety Director Jeff Larason, the rise in Massachusetts traffic fatalities is very troubling. State officials are concentrating on driver distraction issues to save lives in the future. Larason noted the state will run public awareness campaigns this year to remind people to not be distracted behind the wheel.
Other bad habits in Massachusetts leading to accidents, injuries and deaths are speeding and not using seatbelts. Also, the urge to drive more aggressively – common in high traffic Boston – can lead to more accidents. New England generally is a very productive part of the country, with many drivers in a hurry to get where they want to go, so it is common to run red lights and to speed.
Texting and driving also is common. This is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $100 fine, which many experts say is too low. Other factors make drivers in Massachusetts more distracted, including infotainment systems in vehicles, GPS devices and apps such as Google Maps.
People in Massachusetts are also less likely than average to use their seatbelts, so it is not surprising to see the rise in fatalities in this state.
Experts generally warned drivers in Massachusetts to not engage in dangerous driving behavior to reduce the chance of personal injury lawsuits.
A major personal injury lawsuit settlement that made news in recent months involved a Massachusetts company. The lawsuit was settled for $8 million after a serious accident in Virginia that left a nurse with a permanent brain injury and unable to work.
The company agreed to settle for $8 million over the Newport News, Virginia accident in 2014. According to the woman’s attorney, she suffered a serious closed head injury and traumatic brain injury. She lost the ability to work and has trouble doing daily acts of living that most people take for granted.
The company is Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc., based in Norwell. It was hired to clean septic tanks in York County, Virginia. One of the workers, Cary, James Donatto, became intoxicated on Aug. 27, 2014 and then got into a company pickup truck and drove to a restaurant and bar. He crashed into the woman’s Lexus and pushed it into another vehicle. He hit her at high speed.
The woman was a licensed practical nurse before the accident. Donatto was charged with reckless driving and DUI; his BAC was .15 or twice the legal limit. He pleaded guilty to drunk driving, but he only served five days in jail with 175 suspended.
Clean Harbors has made the $8 million payment with a certain amount of it going to her legal team that was not disclosed. The settlement provided money for her pain and suffering, lost wages, and future medical care needs.
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Auto Insurance Requirements in Massachusetts
There is a law in Massachusetts that requires you to have a minimum level of auto insurance. If you do not carry this minimum amount, you can suffer serious penalties that include fines and even jail time in the worst cases. Note that Massachusetts is a no-fault state. This means your auto insurance policy will cover your injury claims up to a certain amount, regardless of who caused the accident. Under this no-fault system, you surrender some rights to sue for injury damages. In most cases, you cannot pursue a claim against the other party, UNLESS your case meets certain guidelines:
- You have more than $2000 in medical expenses
- You suffered serious and permanent disfigurement, broken bones, and/or loss of eye sight or hearing
It is important to note that the threshold for serious and permanent disfigurement is vague. Your attorney will need to be skilled in personal injury law in Massachusetts to show that you have suffered this type of injury, if you want to seek additional compensation from the responsible driver.
The minimum level of auto insurance in this state is:
- $20,000 bodily injury per person per accident
- $40,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident
- $5,000 property damage liability
- $8,000 personal injury protection
There are types of personal injury protection or PIP in this state. Policyholder coverage only covers the people who are named on the policy. The other is household, which covers the policyholder and anyone else in the home. Massachusetts does not require you to carry any additional coverage, such as underinsured/uninsured coverage. Nor are you required to have collision or comprehensive insurance.
Massachusetts Accident Settlement Taxes
In Massachusetts, your personal injury settlement related to a physical injury is not generally taxable. However, there are always exceptions; if you have any questions if these exceptions apply to you, talk to your tax advisor.
If you paid for medical expenses out of pocket and deducted them from your state and federal income taxes last year, but received compensation for them in your settlement, you must report the income on your taxes. But NOT if you did not claim them as deductions before.
If you get a personal injury settlement and interest is applied by the judge on the amount, the interest needs to be reported to state and the IRS.
Punitive damages that you receive in excess of your damages to punish a defendant’s egregious behavior is subject to taxes. It is not reimbursement for damages; it is effectively extra, taxable income.
Any compensation for emotional losses are generally taxable, except for out of pocket costs to treat your emotional issues.
Wrongful death lawsuit settlements can be tricky in Massachusetts. If the settlement is awarded to a direct family member, it may be untaxed. But if it goes to the deceased and goes through probate, it may have to pay estate taxes. You should talk to a wrongful death attorney about this to see what can be done to avoid this situation.
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Negligence Laws in Massachusetts
Rules of comparative fault are used in this state to resolve lawsuits and claims where an injured person had some responsibility for the crash. The laws of Massachusetts reduce your damages if you shared less than 50% of the fault for the crash. You may not recover any damages if you had 50% or more of the fault for the accident.
For example, if you are in an accident where you were rear ended and suffered $10,000 in damages, you would be entitled to the full amount if the other driver was 100% at fault. But let’s say you pulled out in front of the other driver too close to him and you were responsible for 30% of the crash. This would reduce your total amount of compensation by $3000.
Car Accident Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts
This state has a deadline or statute of limitations to file a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident. This law provides three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. For most cases, this time limit begins on the accident date, but if you had an injury that did not become clear until later, the limit may not begin until the day you discovered the injury.
Make sure you pay very close attention to this three-year deadline; if you file after the statute of limitations, your case will probably be thrown out.
Other Massachusetts Driving and Accident Laws
There are several pertinent laws to be aware of if you drive in Massachusetts:
- Massachusetts has banned all types of text-based communication when driving. Novice drivers are prohibited from using any type of cell phone when driving, including hands-free devices.
- Since 2008, the state has mandated a child safety seat for all children from ages 5 to 7, or until they reach a height of 4’9” tall.
There are no caps on damages for personal injury lawsuits in Massachusetts for motor vehicle accidents.
Massachusetts Car Accident Resources
If you have been in a car accident in Massachusetts, you will want to take advantage of some of the useful resources we highlight below.
- If you have suffered serious injuries, you will want to learn what your case may be worth. This cannot be guaranteed, as each case is different. But at the Lawsuit Info Center, we can help you to connect with a licensed attorney who can help you to get a rough idea of a possible claim. Your attorney has access to recent verdicts and settlements in your area for similar types of injuries. This information can help you to determine if it is worth pursuing a case.
- If you are in an accident in Massachusetts, you should report the accident to the police. For minor accidents, the police may not always come to the scene. You should use this Crash Operator Report Form that is available at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.
- If you have been in an accident and do not have a copy of the police crash report, you can request a copy here. This could be important for a personal injury claim or lawsuit. The police often will note on the form who is responsible for the accident. If so, this is helpful in a legal claim to establish responsibility for the accident.
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