I was talking to my web designer the other day and he asked me if his nephew could still make a claim for personal injuries that he sustained in a car accident even though his nephew may have been at fault for the accident. The question struck me because as a personal injury lawyer who’s been doing this work for over 20 years the answer to this question seems so obvious. I realized however that most people who are not lawyers do not know the answer to this question so I thought I would address it here.
Simply put, if you are involved in a car accident and you are determined to be less than 50% at fault then you can recover damages from the other party or parties. The problem however arises in the determination of fault. Who is to say that simply because an insurance company adjustor determines you to be more than 50% at fault for an accident that you really are? Why is their determination of fault the final word? We have in our practice represented many clients who have been told by insurance companies that they were more than 50% at fault and therefore could not make a claim for personal injuries under Massachusetts law. In many of those cases after careful review of the file and investigation by our office, we were able to prove that the determination of fault by the insurance company was incorrect and have been able to recover damages for these clients. One striking example of such a case occurred several years ago when we represented a very nice woman who was driving to work on Route 2 in Concord, Ma. when she rear ended a commercial truck that was traveling in front of her. She was seriously injured, and she called us to look at the case to get our opinion. The insurance company for the commercial truck took the position that since our client crashed into the rear of their truck there was no way they were going to pay her for her very serious injuries. When we got the case, we decided to accept the case for several reasons. First our client indicated to us that the commercial truck came to an inexplicable sudden stop on a major road for no apparent reason. There was no traffic in front of the commercial vehicle and her testimony was it simply just stopped abruptly. We filed a lawsuit suit on her behalf and in the course of discovery we were able to discover that the commercial driver was lost, late for his delivery and had determined that he was heading in the wrong direction and was about ready to take an illegal U-turn across double solid lines in order to get to his delivery more quickly. To make a long story short we obtained a substantial recovery for our client despite the insurance company’s initial denial of the claim. The point of the story is to illustrate that the question of fault is often not clear-cut and may require a more professional examination before a client gives up on their case.
So, the answer to the question “if I am at fault for an accident can I still recover for my injuries?” is it depends! It depends on whether you are more than 50% at fault and it depends on whether or not the determination of fault is clear-cut or needs further investigation. The other important point to remember here is that since Massachusetts is a comparative negligence state, meaning that the negligence of both parties to an accident is compared when determining damages, a client who is partially at fault (but not more than 50% at fault) can still recover damages. In such a situation the client’s total damages may be reduced by his or her relative fault. For example, if a client who is found to be 20% at fault for an accident recovers $100,000 at trial, his award will be reduced by his percentage of fault, or in this example $20,000 and he will receive $80,000. This deduction in damages is made by the clerk not the jury since it is the jury’s job to simply determine the percentages of fault and the client’s total damages. If the jury finds the client more than 50% at fault, the client does not recover at all.
If you have been in an accident and you have any questions regarding whether or not your case is worth pursuing you really owe it to yourself to sit down with an experienced personal injury attorney and get a professional opinion. With offices in Chelsea and Salem, MA, Spada Law Group provides Boston quality legal representation without the commute into the city with free on-premises or validated parking. We are here to answer any questions you may have. Call Spada Law Group today at 617-889-5000 to discuss your situation. The consultation is free and there is absolutely no obligation to hire us. We are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm.