Massachusetts is an at-fault state for personal injuries. If another party injures you, that party could be held financially liable for your damages. However, you have the burden of proving that the other party caused your injury.
Injured parties who contribute to the cause of their injury may not receive compensation for all of their damages.
Contributory fault is a common law tort theory used to bar an accident victim from receiving any compensation if they share fault for an accident. However, most states have abolished this rule in favor of comparative negligence.
Only four states and the District of Columbia still use the contributory fault standard for personal injury cases: Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina.
Under contributory negligence, if an accident victim contributes in any way to the cause of their injury, they cannot recover any compensation for their damages.
For example, if you were just 1% at fault for the cause of a pedestrian accident, the driver who was 99% at fault would not have to pay you any money for your personal injury claim.
The remaining states have adopted comparative negligence systems. These rules allow the injured person to receive compensation even though the person may be partially to blame for the cause of their injury.
Under the theory of comparative negligence, each person involved in an accident is responsible for their liability for causing the accident. The states that have adopted a pure comparative negligence standard treat liability exactly opposite from the states with contributory fault as their standard.
In a state with pure comparative negligence laws, the accident victim could be 99% at fault and still recover 1% of their damages. It would be unlikely that a person would file a lawsuit for 1% of their damages, but the law would allow it.
Most states have adopted a modified comparative negligence standard. The states have a 50 or 51 percent bar to recover compensation for damages. If the accident victim’s percentage of fault exceeds the bar, no damages would be awarded to that person.
Massachusetts has adopted a modified comparative negligence standard with a 51% bar. Under the state’s comparative negligence law, your compensation is reduced by your percentage of fault as long as that percentage is lower than 51%.
Let’s assume you were involved in a car accident with a motorcyclist. You both have a duty of care to operate your vehicles safely and follow traffic laws. However, the motorcyclist turns left in front of you at an intersection, breaching the duty of care.
If a jury finds that the motorcyclist was 100% at fault for the cause of the crash, you could recover up to the total value of your damages.
Now, let’s assume you were speeding at the time of the car crash. The motorcyclist may argue that your excessive speed contributed to the cause of the collision. If a jury finds that you were partially to blame, you cannot recover full compensation for damages.
Let’s assume that the jury finds that you were 30 percent to blame for the cause of the crash. The value of your damages totals $150,000. Because you were 30 percent at fault, the most you could receive in compensation would be $105,000 ($150,000 less 30 percent).
On the other hand, if the jury found that you were 51% at fault for the crash, you would receive nothing for your injuries or damages.
Never admit fault at the accident scene. Do not say you are sorry, you wish the accident had not happened, or you are not sure what happened. Statements like these can be used to support a claim of comparative negligence.
Do not discuss the accident with anyone other than the police officers and your accident attorney. Tell the police officer what happened, but do not embellish or offer details that are not relevant. Allow your attorney to handle any statements you make after the crash.
Avoid answering questions for insurance claims adjusters until you speak with a car accident lawyer. Also, do not agree to recorded statements or provide a written statement. Remember, insurance companies often record telephone conversations, even though they may not tell you they are recording the conversation.
Avoid using social media while your accident case is pending. Posts that you make on social media, statements in test messages, conversations you have with friends, and other information could be used in court as evidence. Talk to your lawyer about the risks of posting information online during an injury case.
Insurance companies may use allegations of contributory fault to undervalue or deny your injury claim. If you are being blamed for contributing to the cause of your injury, you need legal advice right away.
Contact us to schedule a free consultation with one of our Boston personal injury attorneys. Let us help you fight unjust allegations of comparative negligence.