In Massachusetts, 350 people were killed in car accidents in 2017 (the last year for which statistics are available), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While that is a far smaller number than many states, whose death tolls can rise into the thousands, it is a tragedy for those who lost loved ones, friends, and neighbors. Nationwide, 32,000 die and 2 million are injured annually as a result of vehicle accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
More than 90 percent of car accidents are caused by human error, according to the National Safety Council. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident caused by human error in Greater Boston or anywhere else in Massachusetts, it’s a good idea to contact an experienced car accident lawyer. No-fault insurance laws can be complicated, and victims need to know the circumstances under which they can go outside those laws to receive appropriate compensation for their losses.
Common Causes of Car Accidents
Alcohol and Drug Impairment
Despite years of public education on the dangers of drinking and driving, drinking excessively is still a killer on the highways. More than a third of fatal accidents in Massachusetts involve operating under the influence (OUI) of alcohol, a higher level than the 29 percent recorded in the entire U.S. (Drivers can be charged with OUI if their blood alcohol content, or BAC, is 0.08 percent or above.) Nationally, drugs other than alcohol are involved in 16 percent of accidents, according to the CDC.
Roughly 27 percent of accidents are caused by drivers going too fast—either above the posted speed limit or too fast for road conditions, such as inclement weather or snarled traffic. Drivers should always remember that a safe speed needs to be determined by how fast you can stop if traffic conditions required it, not necessarily by the posted speed limit. Conditions such as ice, sleet, or snow and traffic jams may well call for slower speeds to avoid the risk of an accident.
Drowsy or Fatigued Driving
If people don’t get enough sleep (about seven to nine hours), their ability to drive can suffer. Reaction times, judgment, coordination, and reflexes are all negatively affected. Yet roughly 50 percent of drivers say they consistently drive while feeling drowsy, according to the National Safety Council. Just feeling tired or fatigued rather than overtly sleeping is enough to cause an accident. Getting just two hours of sleep less than you need can have an effect that’s the equivalent of drinking three beers.
In the U.S., 3,450 people died and 391,000 were injured in vehicle crashes that involved a distracted driver, according to the CDC. Distracted driving occurs when drivers are paying attention to things other than surrounding roads and traffic. While many people equate distracted driving with using cellphones and other digital devices behind the wheel, any action that takes your attention from driving—such as looking at a map or turning your head to talk to a passenger—is distracted driving.
Following Another Car Too Closely
By far the most common type of car accident is a rear-end collision. The majority of rear-end collisions are the fault of the driver who rear-ended the vehicle in front. Why? Because one of the basic tenets of defensive driving is the one we all should know from learning to drive: don’t follow too close. Always leave enough space in front of you to stop if the other car stops suddenly. The rule of thumb is one car length for every 10 miles per hour, so a car traveling 50 miles per hour should be five car lengths behind.
How Are Damages Paid for in a Car Accident?
What is your recourse if another driver caused a car accident in which you or a loved one was injured?
Massachusetts is a no-fault state. Damages from car accidents, such as expenses for medical treatment payment, property damage, and pain and suffering, are paid for a driver’s own insurance. Massachusetts requires drivers to have personal injury protection (PIP) in the event of an accident.
However, there are instances where the law allows people injured in a car accident to step outside PIP and bring a suit against the at-fault driver for damages. You become eligible to file a legal claim against a driver who was at fault if your medical bills are greater than $2,000 and/or you or a loved one have suffered the following:
- Broken bones (including teeth)
- Serious and permanent disfigurement
- Loss of vision or hearing, partial or total
- Loss of all or part of your body (such as a limb or partial limb amputation)
Does a Driver Who Caused the Accident Have Any Defense?
If you do bring suit against a driver who caused an accident in which you or a loved one was injured, do they have any defenses?
Drivers are responsible for obeying all laws regarding operating a vehicle and for following prudent safety practices. In addition, of course, there are specific laws against OUI of alcohol and drugs and using a handheld cell phone or any other electronic device while driving. (It is illegal to send, type or read messages while operating a car or any other vehicle.) If they did not follow applicable laws and safety practices, they can be deemed negligent, and liable for the damages they caused.
However, drivers can always argue that they did not cause an accident, whether they did or not. The court determines who is at fault for an accident by reviewing evidence. Police reports, pictures, and eyewitness testimony are common forms of evidence. The way victims were injured and how they were injured can also be evidence, as it provides insight into how and why the accident took place. So can the pattern of how and why cars were damaged. Many attorneys work with investigators to help gather evidence and determine what caused a crash.
After all the evidence is reviewed, the court decides who caused the accident.
It is also possible for a driver facing a lawsuit to argue that, while they may have been partially responsible, other people were partly responsible, including the person who was injured. A driver may claim, for example, that they may have been speeding, but you failed to signal appropriately. Massachusetts operates under comparative negligence laws. Under comparative negligence, both parties can be at partial fault in a car accident. Any monetary award is reduced by the percentage amount a jury finds you responsible. If you are awarded $200,000 for loss of a limb, for example, but the jury decides you were 20 percent responsible, that award will be reduced by 20 percent, or $40,000.
Let a Massachusetts Car Accident Attorney Help
Because drivers who are at fault can try to defend themselves from negligence—and their insurance companies can agree—it’s very important to contact an experienced car accident lawyer if you are injured. The Law Offices of Gerald J. Noonan have decades of experience negotiating with insurance companies and establishing fault for accidents. Our initial consultation and case review are always free. Contact us online or by calling (508) 588-0422.