Multi-Car Accidents and Comparative Negligence Laws in Massachusetts
When a driver crashes their own car into a guardrail or runs off the road, understanding liability is usually simple. In most cases, the driver failed to follow the law or safety measures and caused their own wreck. When multiple vehicles are involved, determining who is at fault gets very complex.
In late August 2022, one person was killed and many others were injured in a Brockton crash. The incident involved several cars, as well as motorcycles and pedestrians. Untangling the liability around multi-car accidents and comparative negligence laws in Massachusetts requires the help of an experienced lawyer. Individuals may have the option to pursue multiple sources of compensation if they can prove that several individuals are at fault.
How Multi-Car Accidents Happen
Some crashes occur due to circumstances out of the driver’s control, such as a lightning strike that brings down a power line. However, most accidents are the result of negligence. Whether someone is speeding, driving recklessly, driving drunk, or simply not paying attention, their failure to exercise due care and caution behind the wheel can be damaging. In the Brockton crash, the negligence of many individuals appeared to contribute to the resulting injury and loss of life.
Two-car crashes can appear simple at first but become complicated after an accident investigation is completed. For example, if a car is speeding on a wet street and hydroplanes into another car, it would appear the speeding car is at fault. However, if the second driver is texting and not paying attention before pulling into the street, the second driver could be held liable because of their distracted driving.
Multiple car pile-ups often happen after an initial crash, leading to front- and rear-end collisions, T-bone impacts, and rollovers. In Worcester on I-290, a second crash happened when other drivers tried to look at a previous accident scene while driving and failed to pay attention. The combined effects of the two wrecks shut down traffic on both sides of the highway.
When an accident happens in an intersection, vehicles from all directions can become involved if there is little time to avoid the initial wreck. Cars can be pushed into crossing traffic from behind when another vehicle rear-ends them, putting them at risk of deadly consequences when oncoming cars can’t stop in time.
Massachusetts Comparative Negligence Laws
Many states have comparative (sometimes called contributory) negligence laws. Massachusetts uses a modified version of this law to assign fault in personal injury cases. In this version, plaintiffs can be found partially responsible for the accident that injured them and will have their compensation decreased by that amount. If they are 51% or more responsible, they cannot be granted any settlement or jury award.
For example, if Driver A is injured in a crash with two other vehicles and Driver A is found 30% responsible for the wreck, they can still collect 70% of their requested damages from the other two drivers. In situations such as the Brockton crash, each person who was injured would be able to file a claim against the insurance of anyone else involved if they can prove the other individuals caused them harm.
An interesting theory of law used in Massachusetts is the concept of “pure joint and several liability.” This means every person found liable as a defendant for the crash is responsible for the full number of damages. If one party is unable to pay their part of the compensation, the other at-fault parties must cover the full amount. While most people carry insurance to handle these financial burdens, if a driver has no coverage and cannot pay, the burden will fall to anyone else found liable.
Potential Damages Available From a Multi-Car Accident Claim in Massachusetts
Every accident is unique and has specific circumstances that determine not only liability but what a victim’s claim is worth. Lawyers for all parties involved will gather evidence to determine fault, demonstrate negligence, and support their clients’ list of damages. Attorneys can assist in calculating the value of a claim as well as build arguments to rebut any alleged fault on the part of their clients.
Victims can seek compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. Some examples include:
- Medical bills
- Auto repair or replacement
- Medications and medical devices
- Hospital bills
- Lost wages
- Physical therapy costs
- Travel costs for medical treatment
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Mood disorders such as PTSD or anxiety
Massachusetts allows victims to seek the full amount of their economic damages unless they are reduced by any comparative negligence on the part of the plaintiff. The state does impose a cap of $500,000 on non–economic damages. In some cases, the judge may elect to award punitive damages against another party if their actions were especially grievous or grossly negligent.
Insurance Usually Pays for Damages in Massachusetts
After a crash, it’s recommended that victims contact their insurance companies and a reputable attorney. The lawyer can help them negotiate with both their personal insurance carrier and those of any other people involved in the accident. Massachusetts requires drivers to maintain automotive coverage for their vehicles, and insurance companies will usually fight it out among themselves to determine who is at fault.
However, if a person involved in the crash doesn’t have insurance, an experienced attorney can advise on the next steps to pursuing reimbursement. It’s rare that a person has to pay damages out of pocket, but those who are injured deserve fair compensation for the losses they suffer. Massachusetts law ensures that the victims’ financial needs are met first, allowing at-fault parties who disagree about their degree of responsibility to settle their differences as a separate action.
Insurance companies don’t like paying out claims and will try to minimize or deny settlements. However, filing a claim or lawsuit against them is the wisest course of action because paying when accidents happen is their entire business. A skilled attorney can negotiate on behalf of their clients to push for the best settlement available.
If you’ve been involved in a multi-car accident, you need an attorney to help you throughout the process. Call Riccio Law at 508-226-4500 to schedule a free consultation.