Massachusetts Car Accident Laws

The deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Massachusetts, drivers' legal duties to report a crash, and more.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

After any kind of traffic accident in Massachusetts, it's important to understand the different state laws that could come into play, including:

  • how the Massachusetts no-fault car insurance system determines some of your options after an accident
  • the deadlines for filing a car accident lawsuit in Massachusetts court (when you're able to step outside the no-fault system), and
  • when you need to report a car accident in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Is a No-Fault Car Insurance State

If you're injured in a car accident in Massachusetts, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection (PIP) car insurance coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injuries are serious enough can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. Get in-depth information on Massachusetts no-fault car insurance.

What Compensation Can I Get After a Massachusetts Car Accident?

Your injury compensation options after a Massachusetts car accident depend on whether:

  • you're making a PIP car insurance claim with your own car insurer in line with the Massachusetts no-fault rules, or
  • the seriousness of your injuries means you're not limited to a PIP claim, and can hold the at-fault driver responsible for your accident-related losses.

A Massachusetts PIP claim will pay (up to a limit of $8,000):

  • medical bills resulting from car accident injuries
  • up to 75% of lost income due to the accident and resulting injuries, and
  • "replacement services" (cost of getting help around the house, for example).

If your injuries are serious enough, you won't be limited to making a no-fault/PIP claim and can instead make an insurance claim against the at-fault driver's liability coverage, or file a lawsuit against the driver in Massachusetts court. At this point, you can receive additional compensation for a wider variety of losses (called "damages" in the language of the law), including:

  • payment of your accident-related medical bills
  • compensation for your mental and physical pain and suffering (a category of damages that can come with significant compensation, and which isn't available in a no-fault/PIP claim), and
  • lost income and other economic losses related to the accident.

Important note: The Massachusetts no-fault car insurance rules (including PIP coverage) apply to car accident injuries and related out of pocket losses, but not to vehicle damage. A claim for vehicle damage can always be made against the at-fault driver in Massachusetts.

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're able to step outside the restrictions of no-fault and file a lawsuit after a car accident, you need to make sure you comply with the statute of limitations filing deadline. Otherwise 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, electric scooter rider, 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 you're not limited to making a PIP claim (you're able to step outside the Massachusetts no-fault system) and the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: the other driver (through their insurance carrier) will be on the hook for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?

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. (This rule can be found at Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231 Section 85.)

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 five 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 amount, 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 experienced 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 five 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.

Getting Help After a Massachusetts Car Accident

It's never a bad idea to have a basic understanding of the different state laws that could come into play after a car accident in Massachusetts, but when you're actually injured in a crash, it might make sense to discuss your situation (and your options) with an experienced legal professional.

Learn more about when you might need a lawyer after a car accident., and how to find the right attorney for an injury case. You can also use the features on this page to connect with a Massachusetts car accident attorney near you.

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