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Articles Posted in Injury Settlement

If two vehicles get into a Massachusetts car accident, and one driver is at fault, generally speaking, the faultless driver would file an insurance claim with the at-fault driver’s car insurance carrier. This scenario is quite common; however, it is estimated that one in eight drivers are uninsured, which helps illustrate the importance of uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. The Massachusetts Appeals Court decided a case involving the complexities of underinsured motorist coverage and the right of the underinsured insurance carrier to seek arbitration for any amounts owed to the insured.

The plaintiff was hurt in a car crash. Her insurance carrier was Arbella Mutual, and the other car involved in the accident was insured by Liberty Mutual. The plaintiff notified her insurance carrier of the accident. Arbella notified her that her underinsurance coverage limits were for a half-million dollars per accident.

The plaintiff filed suit against the other driver. The procedural posture of the case became complex, but in the second trial, the jury reached a verdict and allocated sole responsibility for the accident to the defendant. The plaintiff’s awarded damages exceeded the amount available under the defendant’s insurance coverage limits. The plaintiff decided to settle the case with the defendant for a lesser amount and seek the outstanding amount from her insurance carrier under the underinsurance coverage provisions.

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Determining liability, or legal fault, for an accident is central to a personal injury claim for damages.  Accident victims can hold careless drivers accountable for their actions, but as plaintiffs in a personal injury claim, they carry the legal burden of proving fault.  Many Boston car accident cases are based on a negligence theory of law, which asserts that a driver breached their duty of care to operate their vehicle safely, and this breach directly caused the accident and resulting harm.To be at fault in a car accident, according to the Massachusetts Division of Insurance and the Code of Municipal Regulations (CMR), a driver must be at least 51 percent responsible for causing an accident.  This requirement is based upon Massachusetts’ comparative negligence doctrine.  When a victim plaintiff is determined to be at fault for an accident, this fault must not be 51 percent or more, or they will not recover damages. Provided that the plaintiff is less than 51 percent at fault, they will be able to recover damages, reduced by the amount of their fault.

The CMR includes standards of fault that are determinative or that tend to prove that a driver is more than 50 percent at fault for the accident.  Rear end collisions are included in this section, as are accidents that result when an operator fails to signal before turning or changing lanes, causing an accident.  Backover accidents, when the driver has been in the process of reversing their vehicle and collides with another vehicle, is a circumstance that indicates the driver is more than 50 percent at fault.

Common law typically held that plaintiff victims who caused an accident in any way would not recover damages at trial.  Now, according to comparative fault rules, plaintiffs can still recover.  For example, a plaintiff who is found to be 10 percent at fault for causing an accident would find that his damages are reduced by this amount. If the plaintiff would have received $100,000 at trial, they would receive $90,000 instead.

Recently, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals analyzed whether an automobile insurance company had engaged in unfair practices regarding a car accident victim’s claim for damages.  The plaintiff in this case had been awarded a substantial jury verdict of $818,000 for his personal injury claim against the driver who rear-ended his vehicle.  The insurer had offered to settle for $25,000 and $60,000, both rejected by the plaintiff. In the current lawsuit, the plaintiff had argued that the insurer violated Massachusetts law when handling his personal injury claim. In essence, the issue was whether the insurer had refused to pay the claim without conducting a reasonable investigation.The facts of this case indicate that the plaintiff worked as a tow truck operator and had been assisting a vehicle stuck in a snow drift.  While inside his tow truck, on the side of the road, another driver rear-ended his truck.  He alleged that he was injured and brought a personal injury claim against the driver.  The driver’s insurance company attempted to gather information from the plaintiff regarding his injuries, but apparently there remained doubt concerning his bodily injury claims.

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A Massachusetts court recently held that an automobile insurance company had not engaged in unfair claim settlement practices, in violation of state law, when it conditioned a payment of its policy limit on a release of all claims against its insureds. Following a one-vehicle accident in Swampscott, an injured passenger brought negligence claims against the driver and his employer, since the vehicle had been rented in the driver’s capacity as an employee. An automobile insurance company defended both the driver and the company against allegations of negligence, specifically arguing that excessive speed caused the driver to crash into a wall after losing control of the vehicle.

In attempting to settle the claimant’s negligence claims, the insurance company rejected an offer by the passenger/claimant to release the insurer from further claims in exchange for the $1 million insurance policy limit. The insurer contended that paying the limit without a release of their insureds could potentially expose them to bad faith claims.

The claimant then alleged that by failing to investigate and make an equitable settlement offer, the insurer was making a willful and knowing violation of Massachusetts law.  The insurance company relied upon case law and specifically Lazaris v. Metropolitan Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 428 Mass. 502 (1998), to make clear that it could condition paying the policy limit on receiving a release of its insureds.

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Recently, a Massachusetts appeals court affirmed a judgment in favor of an insurance company in a civil action for damages following a motor vehicle accident.  Following an accident, automobile insurance companies may pay damages to an injured individual after a determination that their insured was legally at fault for a collision. In this lawsuit, the plaintiff received a payment from the at-fault party’s insurer. He argued that sales tax was recoverable as damages in tort, and it should therefore be recoverable under the insurance policy, even though he had not submitted proof he replaced his damaged vehicle.

The court stated that when looking at an insurance contract, the language is a question of law to be determined by the judge and, on appeal, by a reviewing court.  According to the common law of torts, injured individuals accrue a right, following an accident, to be compensated for injuries that have been wrongfully inflicted by another individual or entity.

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An appeal before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court addressed the measure of punitive damages to be awarded to a motor vehicle accident victim and his family.  Insurance companies that delay payment, after liability has been demonstrated in a car accident claim, may be assessed additional damages for their conduct. The issue in this case centered on how to calculate punitive damages, specifically, whether post-judgment interest should be included in the amount to be multiplied.

The plaintiffs in this personal injury claim included the victim, his wife, and his daughter.  They filed a personal injury lawsuit for injuries after the victim was struck by a van driven by an employee of the defendant employer.  The victim had been crossing the street in Boston when he was struck and suffered serious injuries, including a fractured skull. The plaintiffs claimed negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and loss of consortium.

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Many victims of car accident cases want to know the value of their claim for settlement purposes.  The truth is there is no set rule to the actual value of a victims claim for pain and suffering.  There are many factors that play a role in determining the approximate value of a car accident bodily injury claim.  Many victims compare their case with another person’s past experience.  This is a mistake.  No two accident claims for a motor vehicle bodily injury claim are alike.

The insurance company takes into consideration many factors when reviewing a car accident bodily injury claim for settlement.  The first factor is Liability.  If the insurance company finds you at fault, then they will most likely deny your claim.  Sometimes,  the insurance company makes a determination that a plaintiff/victim presenting a bodily injury claim is partly at fault for the accident.  Under this circumstance, the insurance company may offer less than the full value of your claim.  If they determine that you are more than 50% at fault, the insurance company could outright deny your claim for a recovery.  This is why it is imperative that you have an attorney to explore all theories of liability and to fight for your rights.

Once Liability has been established, the bodily Injury Insurance Carrier takes several factors into consideration when determining the value of a claim.  Before an insurance company makes an offer of settlement in a Bodily Injury claim in Massachusetts, The plaintiff/claimant needs to establish they incurred over $2,000.00 of motor vehicle accident related medical expenses, or have suffered a broken bone or sustain a permanent scar.   This is commonly referred to as the “tort threshold”.

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