Understanding Massachusetts' No Fault Laws

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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts maintains "no fault" laws pertaining to auto accidents.  Many people, both residents of Massachusetts and Rhode Island residents who are injured in auto accidents over the border, may wonder what no fault laws mean to their case.  It is not uncommon for someone to say to me – "I was rear-ended, of course it is the other driver’s fault."  Rest assured, the no fault laws do not mean that no one was at fault for the accident.

No fault liability allows a person to recover money directly from their own insurance company for medical bills and lost wages regardless of who was at fault for the accident.  The benefit of this system is that it protects injured people who were at fault for the accident.  Following a car crash, medical bills and lost wages are bound to accrue for both the at-fault and not at-fault party.  This system, commonly referred to as PIP (personal injury protection) ensures that everyone is protected.  If you have health insurance, PIP will cover the first $2000 of your medical bills and a percentage of your lost wages.  If you do not have health insurance, PIP will cover up to $8000 in medical bills.   PIP will not compensate you for pain and suffering.

The drawback to a no-fault system is that it limits the rights of a person who was not at fault for an accident to sue for damages.  If the injury is not serious and the medical bills are less than $2000 (the PIP threshold) then you must go through your own insurance company and can not present a claim against the other driver, even if you were not at fault.  This also means that you will not be compensated for pain and suffering.

If the injury is severe, however, you can still present a claim against the other driver and file a lawsuit if necessary.  The Commonwealth classifies severe injuries as those involving: scarring, fracture, brain injury, or any injury which incurs more than $2000 in medical bills.  Therefore, if you have any injury in which the medical bills total more than $2000, then you can present a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.  $2000 is a very low threshold and is often less than the emergency room bill in a serious car accident.

In review, if you are seriously injured in an auto accident in Massachusetts, the no-fault laws and PIP statutes will have relatively little impact on your case.  If you are a resident injured in a Massachusetts accident (which occurs quite frequently due to the small size of our State) you will be subject to the no-fault laws of Massachusetts.  Be sure to hire an attorney who understands how the no-fault system works and how it might affect your claim.