Have you ever considered the possibility of a Massachusetts car accident where in an instant, your life and those of your loved ones are altered forever? Will all of your medical bills be paid? Can you return to work? What will happen to your home, car, and other bills if you and/or your spouse is incapacitated and unable to work?
Don’t think this cannot happen to you. In a car accident in 2017 in Foxboro, a young couple experienced that nightmare scenario when their vehicle was violently rear-ended by another vehicle driven by a man from Mills with four passengers. There were 5 people hospitalized in all, including the couple.
The couple experienced months of total disability and lost income, thousands of dollars in medical care and physical therapy, and suffered lingering injuries that are likely to remain with them for years if not for the rest of their lives. But the tragedy of the event was only worsened when they were advised by their insurer that their claim for compensation against the responsible driver would have to be divided among all 5 claimants. Further, their own underinsured auto liability coverage that is supposed to provide additional coverage in cases where the liable party had insufficient coverage would not be applicable since it was less than the defendant driver’s liability policy.
The lesson here is to check your liability, uninsured and underinsured policies to ensure you are adequately covered in case of a catastrophic car accident.
Massachusetts Auto Policy Coverages
Other than New Hampshire, all states require its registered motorists to carry auto liability insurance, though in varying amounts. Massachusetts only requires that a motorist carry liability limits of $20,000/$40,000, and $8000 in PIP benefits. In an accident with multiple claimants where only the minimum limits are available, all parties must share the $40,000 with no one person able to claim more than $20,000.
If you are injured in a Massachusetts auto accident, generally you first look to your PIP benefits to pay off medical bills and lost income regardless of who was at fault. If you have private insurance, you get up to $2,000 in benefits before the rest of your medical bills are submitted to your private health insurer. If you do not have private health insurance or you are covered by Medicare, MassHealth, or ERISA, then your benefits are up to $8,000 from PIP. PIP also covers lost earnings.
You can bring a claim against the at-fault driver for additional compensation including pain and suffering if you meet the state’s no-fault threshold of $2,000 in medical bills and/or suffered a broken bone or loss of limb, sight or hearing, or serious disfigurement, or a fatality.
Uninsured motorist coverage (UM) comes with your auto liability policy in the same amount or whatever amount you purchased. This becomes available if the other driver was uninsured or it was a hit-and-run accident and the driver cannot be located. You can purchase up to $500,000 in UM coverage from most motor vehicle insurance companies – that will be in the same amount as your liability limits. However, underinsured coverage (UIM) is optional.
In the above accident, the defendant driver had a policy where the 5 claimants had to share $100,000, with a maximum of $50,000 to any one person, which was inadequate for the most seriously injured claimants. Since the couple had UIM coverage that was either below or equal to the defendant’s limits of $100,000, they were unable to recover additional funds. But are there other sources of compensation in such accidents?
What Coverage is Adequate?
You are foolish to only purchase minimal liability and UM coverage and/or to opt out of UIM coverage. Consider that an ambulance ride alone is likely to be $2,000 and that a few days in the hospital with diagnostic testing and perhaps surgery will approach $100,000. A typical soft-tissue injury claim where the injuries are back, and neck strains can settle for up to $20,000 and more. But if you sustained permanent disfigurement, loss of a limb, a permanent disability or can no longer return to work, a settlement for the policy limits of $20,000 or even $100,000 is woefully inadequate.
You should seriously consider purchasing up to $500,000 in UM and UIM coverage, particularly if you have a family. The premiums are not cost prohibitive and not much more than minimal coverage. You can seek up to the limits of your UIM coverage once you have exhausted the at-fault party’s limits. If they are $100,000, then you can recover up to $400,000 if your UIM coverage is $500,000. Talk to your insurance agent about purchasing additional coverage.
An UM or UIM claim is against your own insurer. For UM cases, your car accident lawyer must still prove that the uninsured driver was negligent in causing the accident, that the accident caused your injuries, and that your medical care, expenses and other damages are reasonable and related to the accident.
For UIM claims, the issue is whether the nature and extent of your injuries and damages are sufficient to warrant additional compensation above that paid out by the defendant’s policy limits.
Other Sources of Compensation
An experienced and resourceful car accident lawyer will explore other possible sources of compensation than UIM. If the at-fault driver was in a company vehicle or driving for an employer, there may be employer or business liability policies. There may be excess insurance available or even homeowner’s coverage, though your lawyer can expect a fight over coverage.
If alcohol was involved, there may be a possible dram shop claim against a social host or the bar or restaurant that served the driver. However, the driver must have been obviously intoxicated when served and the server aware that the person was likely to drive. If the driver was a minor, then the bar or restaurant is more readily liable. A social host, if he/she was in control of the liquor and knowingly served the minor, can also be held civilly liable and may have to pay under their homeowner’s policy. These cases are notoriously difficult, though certainly not impossible, from which to recover compensation.
Other possible parties are the municipality or state if a roadway was defectively designed, had poor lighting, lacked proper signage, or was otherwise poorly maintained, and the defect was a contributing cause to the accident or injuries. Also, the defendant’s vehicle may have had a defective steering or braking system, a defective tire, an airbag that did not deploy, or a seatbelt or safety seat that failed to operate as expected. If so, the equipment manufacturer or even auto mechanic who negligently serviced the vehicle may be found responsible. Such as case would be a product’s liability case against the company making or selling the product.
Retain a Car Accident Lawyer from Burns & Jain
Few people who handle their own auto injury claims recover sufficient compensation. In an UM claim, you still must prove liability and your damages. In an UIM claim, you can expect resistance from your insurer to paying you additional compensation. At Burns & Jain, we have handled numerous UM and UIM cases, found additional sources of compensation in these cases, and obtained millions of dollars for our satisfied clients over the years.
Call an experienced and seasoned car accident lawyer from Burns & Jain at (617) 221-7971 for a free consultation about your injury claim.