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Understanding Massachusetts’ Contributory Fault Rules

When you sustain an injury in an accident, your actions could impact the amount of money you receive for a personal injury case — even if another party is at fault, too. Massachusetts’ contributory fault rules could bar you from recovering damages for your claim. 

Contributory (comparative) fault governs what happens when multiple parties share fault for an accident. Understanding Massachusetts’ comparative negligence laws can help you understand the value and merits of your case.

What is Contributory Fault?

Is the general name for the set of rules that determine how liability is divided when multiple parties share blame for an accident. However, it is also the name of one specific standard for apportioning blame after an accident.

Contributory fault is the harshest standard for dividing fault between parties. It is also referred to as contributory negligence

Only four states and DC have contributory fault laws:

  • Maryland
  • Virginia 
  • Alabama 
  • North Carolina
  • District of Columbia 

Under a contributory negligence standard, a victim’s fault acts as a complete bar to recovery of damages after an injury. In other words, if the plaintiff contributed in any way to their injury, they recover no money for their losses.

It seems unfair that a defendant could be released from ALL liability if a jury finds the plaintiff was 1% at fault for their injuries while the defendant was 99% at fault. That is why only a handful of states still use this standard.

Pure Comparative Negligence vs. Modified Comparative Negligence 

Comparative negligence is the predominant way to address liability for an accident when more than one party shares fault. In a comparative fault jurisdiction, being partially to blame does not prevent a plaintiff from receiving a damage award. However, the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced to account for their percentage of fault.

There are two types of comparative fault standards: pure comparative fault and modified comparative fault.

Example of Pure Comparative Negligence 

Pure comparative negligence allows each party to receive damages based on their level of fault. A victim can receive damages even if they are up to 99% at fault for their injuries. However, their damages will be reduced by their share of fault.

Car accidents are good examples of how comparative negligence works. Let’s assume Jane was speeding when another vehicle turned left in front of her at a yellow light. The police officer determines Jane was driving 15 miles over the posted speed limit during the accident investigation. There would have been no way for her to stop for the yellow light. 

The jury decided that both drivers were to blame for the cause of the crash. The jury split the blame 50-50 between Jane and the other driver.

Under pure comparative, Jane can receive compensation for one-half the value of her damages. If the jury finds that her damages total $200,000, she will receive $100,000 as compensation for the injury claim.

Around a dozen states have pure comparative negligence laws. 

Example of Modified Comparative Negligence

The remaining states have a modified comparative negligence standard for dividing damages. Sharing fault for your injury does not automatically bar you from recovering compensation. Your compensation is still reduced by your percentage of fault.

However, you can be prohibited from recovering damages if you share a certain amount of fault. About a dozen states have a 50% bar for recovery. The remaining states set the bar for recovery at 51 percent. 

If your fault exceeds the bar set by state law, you will receive nothing for your claim. However, as long as your fault is below the bar, you can receive some money for your damages.

Massachusetts’ Modified Comparative Negligence Law

Massachusetts is a modified comparative negligence state with a 51% bar to recovery. Therefore, as long as you are less than 51% at fault for your injury, you can receive some money for your damages. 

Proving a Person is Negligent in Massachusetts

Negligence is failing to act with a level of care that a reasonable person would have used in the same situation. Proving negligence requires the plaintiff to show:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care
  • The defendant breached the duty of care
  • The breach of the duty of care was the direct and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury (Causation)
  • The plaintiff sustained damages because of the breach of duty

In our example above, both drivers breached the duty of care to use reasonable care to avoid an accident. They also committed a traffic violation (speeding and failure to yield the right of way). 

The crash caused injuries and damages for each driver. Therefore, both drivers were negligent. Therefore, the jury will use comparative negligence to assign fault. 

A key to proving negligence is convincing the jury members that the defendant breached the duty of care. The standard of care is based on what a “reasonable person” would have done in the same situation. It is up to the jurors to decide what is reasonable conduct. 

The jurors will also decide if the defendant’s conduct fell short of the standard of care. If so, they can find the defendant negligent and liable for damages. It is up to the defendant to raise comparative negligence claims and convince the jury the plaintiff has some responsibility for the accident or injury. 

Contact A Massachusetts Personal Injury Lawyers for a Free Consultation 

Sharing blame for the cause of your personal injury could result in a complete bar from the recovery of damages. Therefore, it is essential you seek legal advice from seasoned Massachusetts personal attorneys.

Insurance companies and defendants try to use this rule to avoid liability for a personal injury. Allegations of comparative fault are not always legitimate. Consult with a personal injury lawyer to determine if comparative fault is an issue in your case.