Can You Recover Damages From A Car Accident in Massachusetts If You Contributed To The Accident?

After a car accident happens, you want the at-fault party to be held responsible. During the civil litigation process, evidence of the at-fault party’s behavior and actions immediately preceding the accident are taken into consideration. Texting while driving, distracted driving, or careless behavior can help a jury or fact-finder conclude whether or not the defendant was responsible for the injuries you suffered. Occasionally, your actions may also be assessed if there is the possibility that your actions contributed to the accident. Under Massachusetts law, recovery is still available to you if your fault is assessed at less than 51 percent, but the award will be reduced by the percentage of fault determined by the fact-finders.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts also has a process for determining fault when assessing an “At Fault Accident Surcharge.” This is issued to drivers who have been in an accident for which their insurance company has determined they are more than 50% at fault. If the person assessed the surcharge does not agree with this determination, they are able to appeal through Massachusetts’ Board of Appeals. Further appellate process is available if the driver assessed the surcharge loses their initial claim with the Board. A case like this was recently reviewed by the Commonwealth Appeals Court in Wheeland vs. Commerce Insurance Co. (14-P-1733).

In this case, the driver given the surcharge was in an accident with another parked vehicle after she was blinded by solar glare. The driver testified that she was blinded by the low, still rising sun that was right in her eyes as she approached the other vehicle. The driver felt the judge improperly upheld the Board of Appeals determination that she partially contributed to the accident by not taking any measures to compensate like wearing sunglasses or using the car’s solar visor. The Court of Appeals stated that while the judge provided additional, superfluous suggestions, the ultimate conclusion reached by the judge was supported by the facts in evidence.

The driver also failed to persuade the Court of Appeals that the Board of Appeals and judge should have taken into account that the car was illegally parked. The driver argued that the presumption of fault shifted from herself to the owner of the car illegally parked, utilizing a strict liability standard rather than a rebuttable presumption. The Court of Appeals pointed to Title 211 Code Mass. Regs. § 74.04(01) (1995), which specifically establishes a legal presumption of greater than 50 percent liability against the driver of a moving vehicle who hit a parked car, regardless of whether or not the car was parked legally. The prior decisions were upheld, and the surcharge remained in place against the driver.

The attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan can help you recover damages when you have sustained injuries in a car accident. Even if you may have partially contributed to the accident, our lawyers will aggressively pursue all available damages. Our extensive Massachusetts personal injury experience means we know what type of evidence and expert testimony is needed for a successful claim. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling Allows Injured Couple to Keep Millions in Awarded Damages, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, September 28, 2015
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Multi-million Dollar Verdict in Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Suit, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, September 15, 2015