Rear-end Collision Appellate Case Helps Illustrate Burden of Proof Considerations in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases

In a Massachusetts personal injury case, the injured party must meet his or her burden of proof in order to successfully obtain damages from the at-fault party or parties. Different court proceedings require different levels of proof. Criminal cases place a high burden on prosecutors to show the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In civil suits, the burden of proof is often met by a “preponderance of the evidence” or a “more likely than not” standard. Depending on the case, presumptions created by statute may also exist, which increase the burden on a party to rebut a specific assumption within the suit.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court case of Markuns vs. Commerce Ins. Co. (15-P-335) demonstrates what must be done when facing a presumption created by a statute or regulation of the Commonwealth. This appeal, while rooted in a rear-end collision accident, did not stem from a personal injury action. Massachusetts allows insurance companies to add a surcharge following an accident, which can be appealed to the Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds (Board) and the civil appellate system. If a driver is on the Safe Driver Insurance Plan, certain accidents are presumed to be the driver’s fault unless the driver presents enough evidence to overcome it. In Markuns, the driver of the colliding car appealed the presumption that he was at fault because he struck the car in front of him.

The driver centered his argument on his testimony during the hearing in front of the Board. The driver felt that his testimony was not rebutted by the insurance company and was left uncredited by the Board and the Superior Court. The Appeals Court disagreed, pointing out that the record shows the driver’s testimony was considered by the Board, and it was ultimately within their discretion to apply or not apply the presumption to the facts before them, based on the totality of the circumstances. The Appeals Court also disagreed with the driver’s assertion that the prior ruling entities failed to apply a presumption to the other driver within 211 CMR 74.00, which assumes fault if you fail to signal at a turn. Again, the court felt the lower judicial bodies were within their discretion to credit or discredit the evidence before them. The lower court allowed the ruling against the driver to stand.

This appeal provides a look at what must be presented in order for any party to be successful in their pursuit of damages. While determinations in a surcharge appeal do not have a direct effect on personal injury lawsuits, the evidence provided can shed light on the defendant’s behavior at the time of the accident and likely defenses raised during the proceedings. The experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to pursue your car accident case. Whether you are dealing with a rear-end collision or a distracted driver, we can aggressively pursue all available relief. For a consultation, call 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