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Articles Posted in Car Accident

Having an insurance policy that covers accidents caused by uninsured or underinsured motorists is important. Without such coverage, it is extremely difficult – often impossible – to receive fair compensation for personal injuries or a wrongful death caused by a driver who either doesn’t have insurance at all or who has only minimum coverage.

Unfortunately, simply having “UM/UIM” (as it is called in the insurance industry) does not mean that there will not be protracted litigation before the case is finally settled. Consequently, it is important to consult an attorney if you have been involved in a Cape Cod car accident, even if you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in place.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently considered by a federal district court sitting in Massachusetts, the plaintiff was an insurance company, acting as the subrogee of its insured (who was covered by an uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance policy), who was involved in a car accident in 2016. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the accident was caused by the negligence of the defendant motorist, who was allegedly issued a citation for failure to yield the right-of-way to the plaintiff’s insured. At the time of the crash, the motorist was driving an automobile owned by her father-in-law, the defendant vehicle owner. The plaintiff alleged that the vehicle owner had negligently entrusted the automobile to the defendant motorist and that this negligence had contributed to the cause of the accident. The defendant vehicle owner filed a motion for summary judgment.

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Most Cape Cod car accident cases focus primarily on the personal injury aspect of the accident at hand. However, there is another potential claim in most car crash cases: property damage.

The reason that we rarely hear about the property damage aspect of a plaintiff’s case is that such claims are usually relatively small compared to personal injury claims, and, because less money is at stake, more apt to settle out of court. This is often true even when the personal injury portion of the case is highly contested and eventually proceeds to trial.

In a recent federal case, however, there was a rare exception to this general rule. When you consider the value of one of the vehicles involved in the collision – a Lamborghini worth over $100,000 – it is easy to understand why the insurance companies decided to fight about which was responsible for paying for the car, all the way to the federal court of appeals.

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When someone is injured in a Cape Cod car accident, the insurance company that insures the at-fault motorist has certain responsibilities to the injured individual(s). If these obligations are not met, there is a possibility of litigation against the company later on.

In many instances, it is the insured motorist who brings suit against his or her own insurance company. For example, a person whose insurance company had an opportunity to settle a lawsuit against him or her for policy limits but refused to do so might seek money damages after a jury awards a substantially higher verdict at trial.

There are also some situations in which someone else might bring suit against the insurance company. One way that this can happen is through an assignment of rights from the insured person to a third party, perhaps a person injured in the accident.

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Cape Cod car accident cases require the plaintiff to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant breached the applicable duty of care and that this breach of care was the proximate cause of the damages for which the plaintiff seeks compensation. Generally speaking, a defendant who crashes her car into an innocent motorist will probably be found to have violated the duty to keep a proper lookout.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. The defendant’s liability hinges on whether he or she failed to act in a reasonably prudent manner, hence causing the accident. There are several factors that can come into play in determining whether the defendant’s actions were reasonable.

Although the issue does not come up very often, it is possible that the defendant may be able to avoid liability by proving that he or she was incapable of acting in a reasonably prudent manner. An example would be a motorist who experiences a sudden medical emergency that causes him or her to lose control of his or her vehicle. While such an event will not always relieve the defendant of responsibility for an accident, there is a good chance that it could. After all, the purpose of negligence law is to encourage individuals to act reasonably. When a medical emergency arises, this may not be possible.

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While the right to a trial-by-jury in a Cape Cod car accident case is very important, there are sometimes occasions when the parties to such a matter may opt to submit their dispute to arbitration rather than move forward with a traditional trial. Like other kinds of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation, arbitration takes the case away from the consideration of a traditional judge and jury and places decision-making into the hands of one or more neutral persons.

In such a situation, there may be a single arbitrator, or there may be several. The result of the arbitration may be binding or non-binding (although, typically, “arbitration tends to be binding, while “mediation” tends to be non-binding).

Arbitration can sometimes be mandatory (such as when someone has signed an agreement to arbitrate all claims prior to the accident or event at issue). Arbitration can also be entered into by the agreement of the parties when all sides believe that it is the most fair and effective means of resolving the issues in a particular case.

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Most Cape Cod car accident lawsuits are filed by an individual, couple, or family against a motorist whose careless conduct led to injury or death. Sometimes, however, there are other possible defendants in such cases.

If the allegedly negligent driver was acting in the course and scope of his or her employment at the time that the motor vehicle collision occurred, the driver’s employer may be named as a defendant. In some situations, a governmental entity may be a defendant in a personal injury case – particularly in cases in which a city employee’s allegedly negligent driving led to an accident. Lawsuits against the government often have special requirements, so it is important to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible if you or a loved one has been hurt in a crash caused by someone employed by a local or state government who was on the job at the time of the accident.

Facts of the Case

In a recent unreported case, the plaintiff was a woman who sued the defendant city and a police officer whom it employed, asserting a claim for personal injuries she sustained due to the officer’s allegedly negligent operation of a motor vehicle. After filing her initial complaint against both the officer and the city, the plaintiff opted to file an amended complaint in which only the city was named as a defendant. In turn, the defendant city filed a pre-answer motion pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) asking the trial court to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim.

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It is no secret that having the right automobile accident insurance is important, but many people do not truly understand the type of insurance that they need or even what coverage they currently have. Unfortunately, some drivers do not learn that they have inadequate coverage until they have been involved in a Cape Cod car accident. By then, of course, it is too late to get the appropriate coverage for that particular accident. Knowing what coverage you have, what additional coverage may be advisable, and how different types of coverage work is very important. Below, we discuss several different types of insurance coverage that can protect a family in the event of a crash.

“No-Fault” Does Not Always Mean No Lawsuit

Massachusetts is a “no-fault” state for purposes of automobile accident insurance. Under no-fault laws, drivers are required to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) insurance that will cover a certain dollar amount of medical expenses and a portion of lost wages resulting from an accident, regardless of who caused the collision. However, “no-fault” does not mean that no one can ever be held legally liable for injuries caused by an accident, nor does it mean that all of the insured driver’s expenses are covered under PIP. While each party must rely on his or her own insurance to pay minor expenses associated with a car accident, those who meet a certain threshold established by state statute have the right to file a traditional negligence lawsuit seeking full compensation from the responsible party.

Drivers are also required to purchase liability insurance to cover damages in the event that they are found to be at fault in an accident and the other driver (or a passenger) is able to get past the no-fault threshold and proceed toward traditional tort liability. Currently, the minimum coverage for bodily injury to others is $20,000 per person or $40,000 per accident. There is also a compulsory requirement for property damage (payable when the insured driver causes damages to someone else’s vehicle by causing an accident); the mandatory minimum is $5000 at present.

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Under Massachusetts law, contributory negligence does not necessarily bar recovery of monetary compensation for damages suffered in a car accident. Generally speaking, this means that being “a little at fault” in causing a crash does not prevent an injured person from filing suit to recover compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering caused by the collision. (It should be noted that the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by his or her percentage of fault in the crash.)

However, if the injured person’s fault was greater than the amount of negligence attributable to the opposing party, the injured person cannot recover any money damages from the other driver. This rule is known as the “modified comparative fault rule.” Additionally, an automobile accident insurance company may opt to impose a surcharge on an insured who is found to be more than 50% at fault in causing an accident. This is yet another reason to seek legal counsel following a Cape Cod car accident, especially one in which it was not clear who was at fault.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the appellant was a man who appealed a lower court’s judgment affirming a state board of appeal’s decision in favor of the appellee’s insurer with regard an insurance surcharge imposed on the appellant following an automobile accident. The appellant insisted that that the board (the Massachusetts Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds) had erred in upholding the insurer’s decision to impose a surcharge because, in the appellant’s view, he was not “more than 50% at fault” as the board had determined.

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In a Cape Cod car accident case, the negligent motorist’s insurance company has certain obligations, including the duty to make a fair settlement offer if liability is clear. Of course, the question of what exactly constitutes fair offer can be subject to debate.

If, for example, an offer is refused and a jury trial results in a substantially higher verdict, the plaintiff has a good argument that the insurance company did not proceed in good faith. When the opposite happens – the jury returns a very modest verdict when compared to the insurer’s settlement offer – the plaintiff may have a difficult time convincing the court that the insurance company acted unfairly.

Facts of the Case

In a recent (unpublished) case, the plaintiff was a woman who filed a personal injury lawsuit, on her own behalf and on behalf of her two minor children, against the defendants, an allegedly negligent driver, his employer, and their insurance company. Her claims included negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of Mass. Gen. Laws chs. 93A and 176D claim. The plaintiff’s claims against the insurance company were stayed while the bodily injury claims against the remaining defendants proceeded to a trial by jury in 2015. At trial, the defendants admitted liability, and jury awarded damages of $10,260 to the plaintiffs; the verdict was affirmed on appeal.

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The vast majority of Cape Cod car accident lawsuits are settled out of court. In most cases, the parties’ respective automobile accident liability insurance companies are part of the settlement process and, consequently, are bound by the terms of the settlement.

Sometimes, however, instances arise in which an insurance company may not be part of the settlement negotiations in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit arising from an automobile accident. A recent case explored such a situation and gave instructions for how such matters are to be handled in similar circumstances in the future.

The case at bar differed from the “typical” case in one important respect: one of the primary issues in the underlying litigation was whether the incident giving rise to the suit was an accident or whether it was the result of an intentional act. Importantly, the insurer was not obligated to make certain payments for an intentional act but was obligated to pay for damages arising from an act of negligence.

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