10 Critical Steps After a Massachusetts Car Accident

Protect your rights and maximize your payout after a Massachusetts car accident. We answer key questions and show you how to build a strong insurance claim.

Massachusetts car accidentWith advanced safety features in cars today, the number of car accidents resulting in serious injuries continue to decline. But despite this ever-advancing technology, last year over 2 million people were injured in car accidents on U.S. roadways.¹

“I’ve never been in an accident, I’m a great driver.” “Accidents happen to the other guy.” Sound familiar? The reality is the average driver will be involved in 3-4 car accidents in their lifetime. ²

Residents of the State of Massachusetts are no exception. Last year there were over 100,000 car accidents on Massachusetts roadways. That’s almost 300 car accidents each day!³

What you need to know if you’ve been in a Massachusetts car accident…

In the aftermath of a car accident, you will be faced with medical bills, car repairs, lost wages, insurance companies, accident reports, the police, pain and suffering, physical therapy, and other related issues.

Being prepared to deal with these issues is crucial, especially if you’re the victim and were injured. Knowing what to do and say at the scene of a car accident will help you successfully navigate a personal injury or property damage claim.

Here are 10 steps to guide you through the post-accident process. We’ve also answered some of the most frequently asked questions arising after a car accident, including links to applicable Massachusetts General Laws.

Step 1 – Stop, Check for Injuries, Dial 911

Massachusetts stop call helpIf you’ve been in an accident, stop immediately where it’s safe to do so. Stay calm and remain focused. If you’re not injured, get out of your car and check for others who may be injured, then call 911.

What information does the 911 dispatcher need?
The 911 dispatcher needs specific information about the location of the accident, whether people have been injured, and whether police, paramedics and tow trucks need to be sent. Answer the dispatcher’s questions promptly and clearly.

The 911 dispatcher isn’t interested in your opinion of who caused the accident or why. That’s not their job. Fault will be assigned later, after an investigation by police and the insurance companies.

Give the 911 dispatcher the following information:

Accident location: Avoid giving vague descriptions of the accident location. Instead, be very specific. Look for street signs, highway mile markers, and landmarks. Giving a specific location will help police and paramedics arrive without delay.

Description of the scene: The aftermath of a car accident can be chaotic. Bumpers may be mangled, glass shattered, fluids leaking, and cars pointed in different directions. Oncoming traffic may be close to the other drivers who might be in shock and oblivious to the danger. Tell the 911 dispatcher what the crash scene looks like. This information will be relayed to the police and paramedics.

Injured parties: While many Massachusetts car accidents are no more than “fender-benders,” there are still plenty of accidents resulting in serious injuries. Tell the 911 dispatcher if anyone is obviously injured or complaining of pain or nausea.

How will I know if police will respond to the accident scene?
Local police, county sheriffs and Massachusetts State Patrol have their own policies dictating when emergency personnel will be dispatched to an accident scene. In most cases, if the accident is merely a fender-bender and no one is injured, they won’t be dispatched. However, when there are injuries or the scene presents a danger to others, they will likely respond.

Which law enforcement agency will be dispatched?
The agency that gets dispatched to the accident scene depends on the location. If the accident occurs within a municipality, the local police department will respond. If it occurs outside city limits, the county sheriff’s department will respond. If it happened on a state highway, Massachusetts State Highway Patrol will respond.

In some cases there will be overlapping jurisdiction. This means one or more of the above law enforcement agencies will respond to the scene.

What are my legal duties after an accident?
If you’ve been involved in a car accident involving property damage or injuries, you must immediately stop at the scene. Once stopped you must seek out the driver involved, or if the accident caused damage to private property, then the owner of the private property. Once found, you must give them the following information:

  • Your name and address
  • The registration number of the car you were driving

Does Massachusetts have a “Good Samaritan” Law?
A number of states have Good Samaritan Laws which give civil immunity to people who try to help the injured after a car accident. Many of these states actually make it a requirement to help the injured. Massachusetts law does not require bystanders to help the injured, but it does provide liability protection to those who give emergency care without compensation or gross negligence.

The State of Massachusetts does offer civil immunity to EMS personnel, firefighters, physicians and nurses.

Step 2 – File a Massachusetts Crash Report

Massachusetts crash reportDo I have to file an accident report?
It depends. If you’re involved in an accident with injuries or property damage in the amount of $1,000 or more, you must file a crash report.

Where can I obtain the crash report form?
You can download the required crash report form here, or request it from any law enforcement agency. You can also download it directly from the Massachusetts DOT website.

How long do I have to file the crash report?
You must complete and file the crash report within five days of the accident. The statute does not permit five business days, but rather five calendar days.

What should I do once I’ve completed the crash report?
Once the Crash Report is completed you must do the following:

  1. Mail or deliver one copy to the local police department or to the Massachusetts Highway Patrol in the city where the crash occurred.
  2. Mail one copy to your insurance company
  3. Mail one copy to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) at:
    Crash Records Registry of Motor Vehicles
    P.O. Box 55889
    Boston, MA 02205-5889

What if I was injured in the accident and I’ can’t submit the crash report form within five days?
Massachusetts law waives the five day reporting requirement during the time of physical incapacity. However if the driver was not the owner of the car, the owner must complete and file the Crash Report within five days of the accident.

Can I obtain a copy of a crash report previously filed?
To obtain a copy of a previously filed crash report, visit the Massachusetts Department of Transportation website and download a Request for Copy of Crash Report. You are directed not to send the request until at least four weeks have passed since the accident. Once filed, it will take at least four weeks for the Registry of Motor Vehicles to process the request. The cost for the report is $20.

Mail the form to:
Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV)
Crash Records Department
PO Box 55889
Boston, MA 02205-5889

What should I do if I’m in an accident and the other driver flees the scene?
Massachusetts law waives the $1,000 minimum property damage requirement and allows victims of hit and run accidents to file a Crash Report. Doing so will create a record of the incident which can be later used in administrative or judicial proceedings against the driver who fled.

Step 3 – Start Gathering Evidence

Massachusetts take photo evidenceThe minutes following a car accident are crucial. If you’ve been injured or your car was damaged, you will need evidence to support your demand for compensation from the other driver and their insurance company.

It’s important to take advantage of the time immediately after the accident. Before long, cars will be driven or towed away, and the other drivers and witnesses will leave – taking important evidence along with them.

Supporting your claim for damages requires evidence of the other driver’s fault, or “negligence.” You need enough evidence to prove that as a direct result of the driver’s negligence, you sustained property damage and/or personal injuries.

What are “Damages”?
Damages are unique to every accident and to each person involved. They include items such as:

  • Car repair bills
  • Rental car costs
  • Cost to repair or replace damaged personal property
  • Medical, dental and therapy bills
  • Diagnostic tests (X-Rays, CT Scans, MRI’s, etc)
  • Out of pocket expenses:
    • Prescription and over the counter medications
    • Slings, crutches, wheelchairs
    • Costs of travel to and from treatment
    • Nursing care
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

Is there additional information which will help my claim?
Gathering the following information will help support your claim.

Information about the vehicles involved:

  • The make, model, and year
  • License plate number
  • Registration expiration date
  • Vehicle identification number

Note: The VIN number can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner where the  dashboard and windshield meet. It can also be found on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jam of the driver’s side door.

Information about other people involved:

  • Full names for all drivers and passengers
  • Home and business addresses
  • Telephone numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Dates of birth
  • Driver’s license numbers

Information about anybody who witnessed the accident:

Note: While witnesses aren’t legally required to remain at the scene, convincing them to do so will give you time to speak with them to determine if what they saw will help your claim.

Diagram of the accident scene:

  • Location of the cars immediately before and after the collision
  • Current weather conditions
  • Time of day the accident occurred
  • Approximate speed each of the cars was traveling
  • Direction each vehicle was headed

Are photographs and video important?
Yes! Digital cameras, cell phones, iPads, and other recording devices are excellent tools to develop your property damage and personal injury claim. Use your device to take multiple photos and videos of the crash scene. Be sure to include sound.

Photographs and videos can identify the position of the cars immediately after the collision, weather conditions, potholes, road obstructions, traffic and street signs, and more. They also reflect the demeanor of the drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and witnesses at the time of the accident.

Sound is important because it can capture admissions of fault, intoxication, statements about insurance, and other inculpating statements. Taking photographs and videos makes it difficult for anyone involved in the accident to later change their story.

Are witness statements important?
Yes. Witness statements can serve as important evidence to support your property damage or personal injury claim. However, witnesses have no legal obligation to speak with you or give a written statement. If you can find helpful witnesses, get some paper and ask them to write down what they saw and heard.

Legal formalities aren’t required for witness statements. Just be sure the witness signs and dates each page of their statement. Also be sure to write down their name and address in case you need to reach them later.

Step 4 – No-Fault Insurance Law

Massachusetts no fault insuranceMassachusetts is a “no-fault” insurance state. This means when drivers are involved in a car accident with injuries, in order for victims to seek compensation for medical costs and related damages, they must file a claim with their own insurance company. This is referred to as a “First Party” claim. No-fault insurance is often referred to as Personal Injury Protection, or (PIP) insurance.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Massachusetts No-Fault Insurance?
The primary advantage of no-fault insurance is the immediate access you have to benefits. If you had to file an injury claim with the other driver’s insurance company, you’d have to wait for an investigation to be completed before receiving payment. This process can take weeks or often longer. But since you are filing with your own insurance company, you simply file a claim and payments are made almost immediately.

The primary disadvantage of no-fault insurance is that you cannot include pain and suffering in your claim.

Are there exceptions to the No-Fault requirement?
Yes. Massachusetts law provides a “threshold,” which if met, permits you to go directly to the at-fault driver (or the driver’s insurance company) to pursue an injury claim. In this case, not only can you recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, out of pocket expenses, and other related damages, but you can also recover compensation for your pain and suffering.

What is the threshold for circumventing first-party claims?
In order for you to pursue a claim against the at-fault driver directly, known as filing a “Third Party” claim, you will need to prove that you incurred at least $2,000 in reasonable medical expenses, and/or your injuries include permanent and serious disfigurement, one or more fractured bones, or substantial loss of hearing or sight.

How much car insurance am I required to carry in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts requires drivers to carry 4 types of insurance:

  1. Personal Injury Protection (PIP pays for injuries to you and to your passengers due to an accident, regardless of who is at fault)
    – $8,000 per accident
  2. Liability
    – $20,000 for injuries you cause to one person in one accident
    – $40,000 for injuries you cause to two or more persons in one accident
  3. Property Damage
    – $5,000 for damage you cause to another person’s property in one accident
  4. Uninsured Motorist Liability (Covers the medical expenses of the insured due to an accident caused by the negligence of a driver without insurance)
    – $20,000 for injuries to one person in one accident
    – $40,000 for injuries to two or more persons in one accident

Step 5 – Massachusetts Comparative Negligence Law

Massachusetts comparative negligenceThe State of Massachusetts has adopted the Modified Comparative Fault System. Under this system, each driver may be held responsible (liable) for damages sustained in the accident in proportion to each driver’s percentage of fault.

A victim filing a property damage or personal injury claim will be entitled to recover damages from the at-fault driver as long as that victim’s own comparative fault was not greater than 50%.

If the claimant is determined to be 51% at fault or higher, Massachusetts law prohibits them from recovering any compensation from the other driver.

What are some examples of how Massachusetts Comparative Negligence law works?
Here are three scenarios:

Scenario A: One driver is entirely (100%) at-fault in causing the accident

Daryl was late for work. He was headed north on Boyle Street in Boston. When Daryl came upon the intersection of Boyle and Main Street, the light had just turned red. Instead of stopping, Daryl accelerated running through the red light, crashing into Rebecca’s car as she began to head east on Main Street.

Rebecca sustained medical bills in excess of the Massachusetts threshold amount of $2,000. In this case Daryl was 100% at-fault, and Rebecca would be entitled to 100% of her damages, including her medical and therapy bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Scenario B: Driver and victim share some percentage of fault in the accident

Rebecca was driving home in the right lane on I-195 outside of Fall Driver. Daryl was behind her and decided to pass her car. To do so, he signaled and moved into the left lane and increased his speed. After moving ahead of Rebecca’s car, Daryl signaled his intention to move back to the right lane. As he did, he struck the front passenger side quarter panel of Rebecca’s car, causing both cars to crash.

The Massachusetts Highway Patrol was dispatched to the scene. Daryl was ticketed by the State Trooper in violation of Massachusetts General Laws § 2 which reads in part:

“The driver of a vehicle passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction shall drive a safe distance to the left of such other vehicle and shall not return to the right until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle…”

However, Rebecca was also ticketed by the State Trooper in violation of Massachusetts General Laws § 2 which read in part:

“…the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on visible signal and shall not increase the speed of his vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.”

Rebecca’s injuries exceeded the threshold amount of $2,000, so she retained an attorney. Her attorney filed a lawsuit against Daryl for $50,000, representing Rebecca’s medical bills and related damages. Daryl’s insurance company provided an attorney to defend him.

During their investigation of the accident, Daryl’s insurance company located a witness who said she saw Rebecca speed up after Daryl was safely past her, hindering him from safely moving back in front of Rebecca’s car.

In their verdict, the jury found Daryl’s comparative negligence in causing the accident amounted to 75%, and apportioned Rebecca’s negligence at 25%. As a result, Rebecca was only awarded $37,500, representing her 25% comparative negligence.

Scenario C: Victim’s comparative fault is determined to be 51%

At trial Daryl and his witnesses testified Daryl was well ahead of Rebecca as he attempted to move back into the right lane in front of her. Daryl also gave an audible signal to Rebecca, and slowly moved back into the right lane in front of her.

The witnesses testified that not only did Rebecca accelerate, but she appeared to have purposely attempted to block Daryl from re-entering the right lane. In this case, the jury apportioned Rebecca’s comparative fault to be 51%. Under the Massachusetts’s Comparative Fault statute, because Rebecca’s negligence was apportioned at 51%, she was barred by law from recovering any compensation from Daryl.

Step 6  – Report the Crash to Your Insurance Company

Massachusetts call insuranceAn insurance policy is a binding legal contract between you (the insured) and your insurance company (the insurer). The policy describes your obligations as well as those of your insurance company after a car accident.

Your policy contains important clauses including a Notification Clause and Cooperation Clause. These require you to promptly notify your insurance company after an accident, and to cooperate in the subsequent investigation.

Failing to notify your insurance company of the accident, and/or failing to cooperate with them during the investigation can result in non-renewal of your insurance policy, a rise in your premiums, or in some cases, cancellation of your policy.

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company if no one was injured?
Yes. To you the accident may not have appeared serious. In fact, it might have been a minor fender-bender with no apparent injuries and only minor damage. As a result you may be tempted not to report the accident to your insurance company, especially if you think by reporting the accident your premiums will be raised. That could be a serious mistake. Here’s why….

Threshold Injury: The injury sustained by the other person may fall under the category of a threshold injury exception to the no-fault requirement of filing 1st party claims.

Violation of the Notification and Cooperation Clause: You’re under a contractual duty to report the accident to your insurance company. By failing to do so, you are in violation of the terms of the policy.

Symptoms May Be Delayed: At the time of the accident the other driver or passengers may have said they were uninjured. However, because the onset of symptoms can take hours, and even days to appear, the injuries could still be realized sometime after the accident.

No Insurance: The other driver may have been uninsured or under-insured at the time of the accident, and didn’t want you to know. This can be especially true if the police were summoned to the scene.

Fraud: Not everyone is as honest as you are. There are some people who purposely inject themselves in accidents to “cash-in” by later filing fraudulent personal injury claims. Your insurance company needs time to investigate the accident in an effort to ferret out those fraudulent claims.

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company even if it wasn’t my fault?
Yes. Because symptoms of injuries may not appear for hours, and even days after the accident, it’s altogether possible the other driver was injured and didn’t know it at the time. If that occurs, the driver may decide the accident was your fault and go on to retain an attorney and pursue a claim against you.

If you failed to report the accident to your insurance company promptly after it occurred, your insurance company won’t have any idea what’s about to come when suddenly you receive a letter from the other driver’s attorney threatening a lawsuit.

Failing to report the accident to your insurance company affords the other driver (and/or their passengers) and attorney a substantial time advantage.

Example of why it’s important to report all accidents immediately to your insurance:

Lydia was on her way to work one morning, heading north on Interstate 95 toward Boston. She intended to take exit 4 East. To do so, she pulled into the right hand turn lane. She waited patiently for traffic to clear so she could safely exit the highway.

As Lydia was getting ready to move into the exit ramp, Doug had entered the lane behind her. Thinking she was going to complete her exit, he moved ahead. What he didn’t realize was that Lydia had slowed to let another driver pass.

As Lydia slowed to let the car pass, Doug collided with the rear of her car. They pulled over to the side of the road and got out to examine the damage. Doug asked Lydia if she was hurt and she said she was “fine.” Doug said he was a little shaky, but otherwise he felt fine too.

When the police arrived, Doug said he couldn’t stop in time because Lydia stopped suddenly on the exit ramp. They ticketed Doug for “Following too Closely” under Massachusetts General Laws § 9.06 (7) which reads in part:

“The driver of a vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and condition of the highway.”

Lydia and Doug exchanged insurance and contact information. Because the accident appeared to be minor, with no damage to either car and no apparent injuries to either driver, Lydia and Doug left, each relieved not to be hurt and that their cars were intact.

Unfortunately, Doug chose not to report the accident to his insurance company.  He didn’t want his insurance company to know he received a traffic citation. He was afraid if he reported the accident his insurance premiums would rise.

The next morning Lydia could barely get out of bed. Her back was sore and she couldn’t move her neck without feeling pain. Her husband drove her to the local hospital’s emergency room.  The physician scheduled Lydia for an MRI and CT scan. Lydia was subsequently diagnosed with a whiplash injury and disk herniation to the L4 level of her spine. She was told she would need to have back surgery. She was also told the back injury would likely result in a permanent injury requiring ongoing therapy and medical intervention.

Several days later, Lydia retained a personal injury attorney. Two months after the accident, Doug opened his mail to find a letter from Lydia’s attorney. The letter stated that she sustained serious injuries in the accident and that Doug was responsible for paying those bills and other related damages.

By failing to promptly report the accident to his insurance company Doug not only violated the terms of the cooperation clause, but he also gave Lydia’s attorney a substantial head start on the claim. By the time Doug received the letter, Lydia’s attorney had already located witnesses to the accident, secured copies of Lydia’s medical records and bills, a medical narrative from Lydia’s physician confirming her injuries were a direct result of the accident, her MRI  and CT scan results, and more.

Doug was shaken. He wondered if his insurance company would defend him in the claim, or if he was on his own. If Doug had simply complied with the terms of his auto policy by contacting his insurance company right after the accident, he might not be in this position. Now Doug had to wait to see if his insurance company would defend him in the lawsuit, and if they did, would they raise his premiums, or even cancel his policy.

When do I contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company?
After notifying your insurance company, contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company to report the accident. Make sure you have the driver’s name and contact information, the registration number of the car, and the driver’s insurance policy number.

Is it a good idea to pay for damages without involving my insurance company?
No. Do not make secret agreements. Besides the contractual obligations in your insurance policy, there is a very practical reason to report the accident to your insurance company right away…

Because some symptoms of injuries won’t manifest for hours, and sometimes even days after an accident, it’s entirely possible the other driver won’t know they’re hurt until days after the accident. The driver may then decide to retain an attorney. If that were to occur, and you had not reported the accident to your insurance company, your insurance would have no prior knowledge of the accident, forcing them to scramble to protect you.

Are there mobile apps to help file accident claims?
Yes. Today, many insurance companies have mobile apps to help report car accidents. Most apps have the ability to:

  • Take photographs
  • Initiate claims
  • Fulfill the insurance company’s reporting requirement
  • Create and send state-required auto crash reports
  • Draw 3-dimensional sketches of the accident scene
  • Collect driver’s license and insurance information, and more
  • Give a GPS location of the accident scene

Below are just a few of the companies offering car accident reporting apps:

Allstate Mobile
State Farm
Google Accident Report
iTunes Auto Accident Report

Step 7 – Retain an Attorney or Defend Myself?

Massachusetts retain attorney represent yourselfSome personal injury claims can be competently handled by a victim without legal representation. However, there are others which always require legal representation.

What’s the difference between soft tissue and hard injuries?
When it comes to car accidents, there are two types of injuries. They are “soft tissue,” and “hard injuries.”

Soft tissue injuries include strains and sprains to ligaments, tendons, muscles, minor bruising, abrasions, cuts not requiring stitches, first degree burns, minor whiplash, and other relatively minor injuries.

Because soft tissue injuries generally don’t result in substantial medical bills, nor do they involve complex issue of law, a victim can negotiate their own injury claim with the insurance company. Moreover, in soft tissue injuries there may not be enough compensation to pay an attorney and leave you with enough leftover to pay for all your medical bills and pain and suffering.

Hard injuries are much more serious, and can include head trauma, fractures, third degree burns, deep gashes requiring stitches, and other injuries requiring extensive medical care. Oftentimes X-Rays, CT Scans, and MRIs are necessary.

Compensation for a serious injury claim can be substantial. As a result, there’s just too much at risk by representing yourself. You may think by representing yourself you can be just as effective as an experienced personal injury attorney. That’s just plain wrong.  By representing yourself, you will likely end up settling for an amount substantially less than an attorney could have obtained for you. And in almost all cases this is true even after attorney’s fees are deducted.

Insurance companies know claimants who go it alone can only negotiate so far. While an insurance claims adjuster may lead you to believe you’re an expert negotiator, the truth is, you’re just a pawn in their game.

At some point in the negotiations the claims adjuster is going to say “That’s our final offer.” Suddenly your leverage is gone. At that point it’s take it, or leave it.

Hard injury claims often require filing a lawsuit. Insurance companies don’t like lawsuits. They know once a lawsuit is filed they will have to pay out substantial amounts in legal fees to defense attorneys. Lawsuits almost always require pretrial discovery, including depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas for production of documents, and more. These are actions only an attorney can take.

Through lawsuits, personal injury attorneys can learn what the driver’s policy limits are, whether the driver has a past record of traffic accidents, traffic tickets, prior arrests, prior or pending lawsuits, and much more.

How much do attorneys charge?
In most cases, personal injury attorneys do not charge legal fees for initial office consultations. When you find an attorney who will accept your case, the attorney will agree to represent you on a contingency fee basis. A contingency fee means you do not have to pay the attorney any legal fees until the attorney successfully settles your case or wins it at trial.

If your attorney fails to settle your injury claim, or loses the case in trial, you are not required to pay fees or legal costs. Those can be substantial, including medical experts, court reporters, filing fees, private investigator fees, and much more.

Contingency fees can range from 25% to 40% depending on the time it takes to resolve the case, the complexity of the case, the attorney’s outlay of costs, and whether or not the case has to be tried in front of a jury.

How do I chose an attorney?
Today, most personal injury attorneys have interactive websites setting out the types of cases they accept, their experience, and sometimes the cases in which they obtained substantial settlements or court awards. On many sites you can chat immediately online with an attorney or paralegal.

Make several appointments with personal injury attorneys in your area. Bring along copies of your medical records and bills, a copy of the accident report, photographs, witness statements and other documents related to the incident. These attorneys will review the evidence, discuss the underlying facts, and ask questions. After doing so, the attorneys may be able to give you their opinions of the viability of your claim, whether or not they believe the claim will settle, or if the claim may have to be tried in court.

Step 8 – Dealing with the Police

Massachusetts dealing with policeLaw enforcement officers are highly trained in accident scene investigation. When the police, sheriff’s deputies, or Massachusetts Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers arrive at an accident scene, they have multiple duties to perform. You are required to obey their lawful direction at all times and cooperate in their investigation of the accident.

Are police officers required to listen to my version of the story?
No. You may try to speak with the investigating officer to give your opinion of the cause of the accident. However, the officer is not required to listen to your version of events or to discuss the accident with you. In most cases, law enforcement officers will ask basic questions.

Do I have to answer questions from the police?
It depends. If the officers ask you to identify yourself, including your full name and address, proof of registration, and proof of insurance, you must comply. However, if you are being questioned by the police about possession of drugs, outstanding warrants, or other crimes, you have the right not to answer those questions.

Massachusetts law regarding failure to cooperate with officers is summarized below.

“Any person who, while operating or in charge of a motor vehicle, shall refuse, when requested by a police officer, to give his name and address or the name and address of the owner of such motor vehicle. …shall be punished by a fine of one hundred dollars.”

What if the police issue a traffic citation?
If an officer believes your actions violated Massachusetts traffic law, you may be issued a traffic citation. Signing a traffic citation is not an admission of guilt, nor is it admissible in court as conclusive evidence of fault. Rather, your signature is simply an agreement you will appear on a date and time to face the charge.

At that time, you may enter a plea of not guilty and contest the citation. You can also attempt to negotiate a “plea bargain” with the prosecutor. In return for paying a fine and attending a driver education course, the citation may be dismissed and not appear on your driving record.

Step 9 – Consider Small Claims Court

Massachusetts small claims courtThe Massachusetts Legislature created Small Claims Courts to act as forums for people who are unable to settle their differences in an amicable manner. These courts have relaxed the rules of evidence thereby giving parties the opportunity to present their cases without the complexities found in higher courts.

Massachusetts Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear cases up to $7,000. Unlike most other states which have small claims courts located in various parts of the state, Massachusetts Small Claims Courts are centered exclusively in Boston. These courts hear cases involving parties from all over the state.

When would I file a lawsuit in Massachusetts Small Claims Court?
Massachusetts is a no-fault insurance state. As a result, personal injury claims must be filed as “first party” claims with the injured driver’s own insurance company. However, property damage claims do not have to be filed as first party claims.

You can also file a personal injury claim in small claims court if the amount meets Massachusetts threshold requirement of at least $2,000, as long as the total amount you are suing for is $7,000 or less. You might consider a small claims lawsuit when:

  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company denies your property damage claim
  • Your medical bills exceed the $2,000 threshold limit
  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company offers an unfair settlement
  • The at-fault driver was uninsured or under-insured
  • An attorney will not accept your case

If the amount you’re suing for is more than $7,000, you will need to retain an experienced personal injury attorney to file a lawsuit in higher court.

Do I sue the driver or their insurance company?
If you decide to file a lawsuit in small claims court, you must sue the driver who caused the accident, not their insurance company. The insurance company did not cause the accident, and has no personal liability for it. They are an entirely separate entity which provided insurance to the driver who crashed into you.

Where can I get more information about Massachusetts small claims lawsuits?
For more information on filing a small claims lawsuit, go to the Massachusetts Court System website.

Step 10 – Statute of Limitations

Massachusetts statute of limitationsWhen it comes to personal injury claims, each state has its own law setting the amount of time a victim has to either settle their claim or file a lawsuit. That amount of time is referred to as the Statute of Limitations.

If you are the victim in a car accident and you fail to settle your claim within the statute of limitations period, you will lose your legal right to pursue the at-fault driver for any compensation.

What is the Statute of Limitations for personal injury claims in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts has a 3 year statute of limitations for actions arising out of property damage or personal injury claims.

What if the insurance company won’t return my calls and the statute of limitations is about to expire?
The insurance company and the claims adjuster handling your case have no legal or practical obligation to settle your claim within the statute of limitations period. Nor do they have a legal duty to advise you if the statute of limitations period is about to expire.

You will not receive any sympathy from the insurance company if you miss the statute of limitations deadline. If you miss the deadline, it is entirely on you.

If the date is approaching and you haven’t reached an agreement with the insurance company, you can file a lawsuit, even if you do so in small claims court. Once a lawsuit is filed the statute of limitations is “tolled,” meaning it no longer applies to your claim. If the statute of limitations is about to expire, you might consider seeking the counsel of a local personal injury attorney. The attorney may agree to take your case and file the lawsuit for you.

Visitor Questions on Massachusetts Car Accidents

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>