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At-Fault Car Accidents in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is a modified no-fault insurance state. This means that, regardless of fault, your own insurance company will pay for your injuries, up to your policy limit. However, you may sue the at-fault party for non-monetary damages (such as pain and suffering) if those damages exceed $2,000.

How, then, is a negligent driver held responsible for his or her actions?

The Massachusetts Legislature has established the Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP), which provides for driver classifications and insurance premium adjustments based on an insured’s driving record. The SDIP is meant to promote safe driving by rewarding careful drivers and penalizing those who are careless. Under this plan, an at-fault accident constitutes a surchargeable incident.

To determine fault in a Massachusetts car accident, the SDIP uses a classification system with 19 categories. The categories create rebuttable presumptions of fault for various types of auto accidents.

The presumptions generally assign fault accurately but, as is true of any system that relies on categorical judgments, there are situations where the presumptions can lead to an incorrect determination of fault. In those cases, drivers can challenge fault determinations through an appellate procedure.

Points for at-fault accidents

The Safe Driver Insurance Plan has to remain revenue-neutral for the aggregate of all Massachusetts drivers.

This means upward and downward adjustments for individual drivers must balance for the overall system; i.e., upward premium adjustments for poor drivers must be offset by decreased premiums for good drivers. Safe drivers are rewarded while reckless and negligent drivers are financially encouraged to drive better.

If someone is involved in an at-fault accident, his or her driving record will accumulate surcharge “points” depending on the nature of the incident. Insurers of motor vehicles in Massachusetts must impose merit-rating surcharges on insured drivers who are more than fifty percent at fault in causing a motor vehicle accident.

The Board has established “standards of fault” which are used to determine when a driver is more than 50 percent at fault in causing an auto accident. These standards of fault are considered conclusive unless the driver can demonstrate, by a showing of sufficient evidence, that he or she was not at fault during the initial review or hearing of the Merit Rating Board (MRT).

What is a surchargeable at-fault accident in Massachusetts?

A car accident is defined as a surchargeable at-fault accident if:

  • The involved operator is more than 50 percent at fault, as determined by the Standards of Fault (see below); and
  • The vehicle is a private passenger automobile; and
  • The accident involves a claim payment of more than $500, in excess of any deductible; and
  • The claim payment is for “Damage to Someone Else’s Property,” “Collision,” “Bodily Injury to Others” or “Limited Collision” coverage for a vehicle subject to the Safe Driver Insurance Plan.

The MRB will add the accident to the at-fault driver’s driving record. Whether or not the insurance company increases the premium depends on the specific insurer’s merit rating plan.

Standards of fault

The following standards of fault help the MRT determine if a driver was more than 50 percent at fault in the car accident:

  • Collision with a lawfully or unlawfully parked vehicle
  • Rear-end collision
  • Out-of-lane collision
  • Failure to signal
  • Failure to proceed with due caution from a traffic control signal or sign
  • Collision on wrong side of road
  • Operating in the wrong direction
  • Collision at an uncontrolled intersection
  • Collision while in the process of backing up
  • Collision while making a left turn or U-turn across the travel path of a vehicle traveling in the same or opposite direction
  • Leaving or exiting from a parked position, parking lot, alley or driveway
  • Opened or opening vehicle door(s)
  • Single-vehicle collision
  • Failure to obey the rules and regulations of driving
  • Unattended vehicle collision
  • Collision while merging onto a highway, or into a rotary
  • Non-contact operator causing collision
  • Failure to yield the right of way to emergency vehicles when required by law
  • Collision at a “T” intersection

Of course, an insurance-premium increase doesn’t go far enough to punish poor driving, especially when a loved one is hurt in a serious car accident. When that is the case, it is important to speak with a Massachusetts personal injury lawyer to learn more about recovering compensation from your own insurance company, as well as the at-fault driver.

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