Massachusetts Car Accident Laws

A look at the statutory deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Massachusetts, the state's rules on shared fault for a crash, and drivers' legal duties to report a car accident.

After any kind of traffic accident in Massachusetts, if you've been injured and/or incurred significant damage to your vehicle, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensated for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Massachusetts laws that could have a big impact on your case.

(Important note on no-fault: Massachusetts is a no-fault car insurance state. That means, after a car accident, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injury claim meets certain prerequisites can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. The discussion in the following sections presumes that you're able to do that. For details on Massachusetts's no-fault rules, skip to the last section of this article.)

The Massachusetts Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit. If you miss the time limit set by this law and you try to file your claim after the deadline has already passed, the Massachusetts court system is almost certain to dismiss your case, unless some rare exception applies to extend the deadline.

In Massachusetts, if anyone was injured in a car accident -- whether a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian -- they must get their lawsuit filed within three years of the date of the crash, according to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 260 section 2A. That same statute -- and same three-year deadline -- applies to a lawsuit seeking compensation for vehicle damage.

If someone died as a result of the accident, and the executor or administrator of the deceased person wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver, under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 229 section 2, the deadline for starting that case is also three years. But keep in mind that the "clock" starts running as of the date of the deceased person’s death (a date that might be different from the date of the accident).

It’s crucial to understand and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential car accident lawsuit. If the statute of limitations deadline is coming up, it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Massachusetts car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Massachusetts Car Accident Cases

If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: the other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?

As codified at Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231 Section 85, Massachusetts follows a "modified comparative fault" rule when both parties are found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident trials, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the modified comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault. But in Massachusetts, the plaintiff's share of fault must be 50 percent or less in order to collect anything from the defendant. If the plaintiff's fault exceeds 50 percent, the plaintiff gets nothing.

For instance, suppose that in your case, the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 20 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were driving 5 miles-per-hour over the posted speed limit). Under the Massachusetts comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 80 percent of the $100,000 total, or $80,000 -- still a significant sum, but not as much as the grand total of your damages.

Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind Massachusetts judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

Reporting a Car Accident in Massachusetts

According to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90 Section 26, any driver must complete a Motor Vehicle Crash Operator Report form and file it with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles within 5 days if they are involved in an accident in which:

  • any person was killed or injured, or
  • there was damage in excess of $1,000 to any one vehicle or other property
The person completing the report must also send a copy of the report to the police department having jurisdiction where the crash occurred.

Massachusetts No-Fault Car Insurance

As touched on above, Massachusetts is one of a dozen or so states that follow a no-fault car insurance scheme. That means injured drivers and passengers must typically turn first to their own personal-injury-protection car insurance coverage to get compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other out-of-pocket losses after a crash, regardless of who might have been at fault. A claim against the at-fault driver is only possible in certain scenarios. Get the details on the Massachusetts no-fault car insurance rules.

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