Massachusetts Car Accident and Personal Injury Laws

Here’s the Commonwealth of Massachusetts traffic and injury liability laws you need. You may be entitled to compensation from an at-fault motorist.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and personal injury claim.

You’re entitled to seek compensation from a negligent motorist whether you were walking, riding, or driving another vehicle when the collision occurred.

In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. For your convenience, we’ve summarized each law and provided a link to the full text of each Commonwealth of Massachusetts statute.

Pedestrian Traffic Laws

Pedestrians and Crosswalks

When traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation, drivers must yield the right of way to a pedestrian who is crossing within a crosswalk and who is in the path of or approaching the path of the vehicle.

MA Code § 1-14-89-11

Pedestrian Control Signals

Whenever special pedestrian control signals, exhibiting the words “Walk” or “Don’t Walk” or the symbols of a walking person or an upraised palm are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:

  1. Walk or Walking Person. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
  2. Don’t Walk or Upraised Palm. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, whether flashing or steady. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian’s crossing on the Walk or Walking Person signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk or safety island while the Don’t Walk or Upraised Palm signal is showing.
  3. Pedestrians shall obey instructions on any traffic-control device specifically applicable, unless otherwise directed by a police officer.

MA Code § 9.09

Pedestrians on Roadway

Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway. Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the shoulder of the roadway edge.

MA Code § 814.070

Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks

The driver of a vehicle must yield the right of way to any pedestrian on a sidewalk.

MA Code § 1-14-89-11

Drivers to Exercise Due Care

The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care concerning pedestrians.

MA Code § 1-14-89-11

Massachusetts Driving Laws

Obedience to Traffic Control Devices

A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.

MA Code § 1-14-89-8

Driving on Right Side of Roadway

Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:

  • When passing another driver in the same direction
  • When making a left turn
  • When the right lane is unavailable for ordinary travel

MA Code § 1-14-89-4B

Passing On the Left

Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.

MA Code § 1-14-89-2

Limitations on Overtaking on the Left

Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.

MA Code § 1-14-89-2

Passing On the Right

Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:

  • When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
  • When the roadway is restricted to lanes of traffic moving only in the same direction.
  • On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.

MA Code § 1-14-89-2

Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices

No person under 18 years of age is permitted to use a mobile telephone, hands-free mobile telephone or mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle on any public way, except for emergency purposes.

MA Code § 1-14-90-8M

A driver must not use a mobile telephone, or any handheld device capable of accessing the internet, to manually write, send or read an electronic message while driving.

MA Code § 1-14-90-13B

Drivers and Intersections

When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver to their right.

MA Code § 1-14-89-8

Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections

A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.

MA Code § 1-14-89-8

Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway

A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other vehicles on the roadway to be crossed.

MA Code § 1-14-89-8

Bicycling Laws

Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.

MA Code § 1-14-85-11B

Motorcycling Laws

Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic

Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.

MA Code § 1-14-89-4A

“Lane Splitting”

Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as “lane splitting,” motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.

MA Code § 1-14-89-4A

Helmet Law

All motorcyclists must wear helmets while riding on roadways. If the motorcycle is not equipped with a windshield, then motorcyclists must also wear protective eyewear while riding on roadways.

MA Code § 1-14-90-7

Motorcycles and Headlights

From thirty minutes after sunset until thirty minutes before sunrise, every motorcycle riding on a roadway must be equipped with at least one white lighted headlamp.

Driving Offenses and Accident Rules

Reckless Driving

A driver who endangers the lives or safety of others is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.

MA Code § 1-14-90-24

Alcohol and Minors

A driver under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive upon any roadway if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.02% or higher.

MA Code § 1-14-90-24P

Driver’s Duty to Give Information

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or property damage must provide, upon request, their license and vehicle registration information to the other persons involved in the accident.

MA Code § 1-14-90-11

Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury must provide, upon request, their license and vehicle registration information to the other persons involved in the accident.

MA Code § 1-14-90-11

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property

A driver involved in an accident resulting in property damage must provide, upon request, their license and vehicle registration information to the other persons involved in the accident.

MA Code § 1-14-90-11

Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or total damage to all property resulting in $1,000 or more must notice to law enforcement authorities within 5 days of the accident.

MA Code § 1-14-90-26

Open Alcohol Container Law

A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage while the car is traveling on Massachusetts roadways. An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle. It cannot be kept in the utility or glove compartment.

Passengers in the living quarters of a motor home and passengers of a hired vehicle can possess an opened container.

MA Code § 1-14-90-24I

Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance

A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways. In Massachusetts, a driver is guilty of the offense of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher or is under the influence of drugs.

MA Code § 1-14-90-24

Ignition Interlock Device

A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device.

The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.

An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device.

If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge.

At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.

MA Code § 1-14-90-241/2

Massachusetts Injury Liability Laws

Massachusetts Dram Shop Law

Massachusetts has a modified Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, and commercial establishments for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.

A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.

Under Massachusetts law, it is a violation of the liquor laws for a social host or a commercial establishment to sell or deliver alcohol to a minor or an intoxicated person.

However, the law stops there. Even if a social host or a commercial establishment is found to have violated the liquor control law, they are not liable for the actions of the intoxicated person.

For violating the liquor control laws, such as knowingly providing alcohol to a minor or selling alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, a social host or a commercial establishment can be fined, and the establishment may lose its liquor license.

For an injured third party to succeed in a claim for personal injuries or property damage against a commercial establishment or social host, the injured third party must file a lawsuit alleging negligence by the establishment or the social host.

While presenting a case in court, the injured third-party may cite the violation of liquor control laws by the establishment or the social host.

Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:

  • At least $20,000 per person
  • At least $40,000 for two or more people

MA Code § 1-14-90-34A

For information about auto insurance, see the Massachusetts Department of Insurance website.

Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)

In Massachusetts, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.

If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident. If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.

MA Code § 3-2-231-85

Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)

One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.

Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.

After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.

Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.

The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.

In the event the jury had found Jackson’s negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.

Massachusetts’s No Fault Car Insurance

In Massachusetts, no-fault insurance allows a person, who is injured in a car accident or whose property is damaged, to file a claim with their own car insurance company.

No-fault insurance allows a person to avoid pursuing a negligent driver for compensation for damages. No-fault insurance does not compensate for pain and suffering, and the amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance purchased by the injured party determines their coverage.

MA Code § 1-14-90-34M

Statute of Limitations

Massachusetts has a three (3) year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must either file their claim within three (3) years following the car accident, or the victim is barred from pursuing the negligent driver in court.

MA Code § 3-5-260-2A

Small Claims Courts

In Massachusetts, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $5,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.

For information about filing a claim in small claims court, see the Massachusetts Consumer Resources website.

Massachusetts Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity

In Massachusetts, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties.

If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.

MA Code § 3-4-258-2

Example: Government Employee Causes Car Accident 

If Melissa, an engineer with the Boston Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Boston would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused by her.

If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Boston can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.

To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.

Massachusetts places a cap of $100,000 on the maximum amount of damages that can be claimed against a government agency or its employees.

Additional Massachusetts Resources