Understanding Comparative Negligence in Massachusetts

Accidents can be complicated events, with multiple parties involved and contributing to the cause of the accident. For example, two drivers at an intersection may both act recklessly while driving across. One may be texting while driving, and the other may be speeding to “beat” a yellow light about to turn red. If the texting driver suffers injuries, he or she may pursue civil action against the other driver, but questions will quickly arise as to fault and compensation. The texting driver may wonder whether or not he or she can recover anything from the other driver.

Massachusetts follows the doctrine of comparative negligence. In the scenario described above, if the speeding driver is found to be more than 50% at fault, the texting driver can recover damages from the speeding driver. The texting driver, however, can have his or her award reduced by the amount of fault assigned by a judge or jury. If the texting driver seeks $50,000 worth of damages from the speeding driver, but is found to be 40% at fault, the texting driver would only be able to recover $30,000 under Massachusetts law.

An example of a comparative negligence can be found in the case of Baudanza v. Comcast. In this car accident case, a service truck struck the driver’s side of an automobile while driving through an intersection. The injured driver filed suit against the truck driver and his employer. The defendant company argued that the injured driver was also negligent and attempted to bring in an expert witness to extrapolate the injured driver’s blood alcohol concentration at the time of the accident. However, the judge found it to be too speculative and excluded the defense expert’s testimony from the jury trial.

The driver suffered serious injuries as a result of this accident, including multiple rib fractures, a collapsed left lung, bleeding on the brain, fractured teeth, a ruptured spleen, a ruptured diaphragm, and a lacerated pancreas. His hospital stay stretched over 18 days and included two surgeries. Complications ensued, with infections and deep vein thrombosis returning him to the hospital after the initial discharge. The injured driver was limited to minimal sleep and suffered nearly constant pain as a result.

The jury found each party to be 50% negligent, and the judge ordered half of the amount the jury awarded to the injured driver to reflect the finding of comparative negligence. The judge also found that the jury failed to properly issue a verdict on pain and suffering, and it determined that the injured driver was entitled to $400,000, reduced by his 50% liability. The defendant company appealed, but the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the award, finding it was within the judge’s discretion to exclude the defense’s witness and enter a judgment based on the evidence when the jury failed to do so.

The Massachusetts car accident attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the knowledge and experience you need to pursue your personal injury claim. As the case above reveals, recovery is possible, even if you share in some of the responsibility for the accident. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

Who Is Held Accountable for Operating Under the Influence Injuries Under Massachusetts Case Law?, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, November 24, 2014
Understanding the Complexities of Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Personal Injury Protection, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, November 17, 2014