Injury, Divorce & Criminal Defense Blog

How Long Do Car Accident Cases Take in Massachusetts?  What You Should Know

If you have been injured in a car accident or car crash in Massachusetts as the result of another driver, in all likelihood you’ll want to know how long your case may take.  This is especially the case if you are facing insurance claims, medical bills, doctors’ appointments, lost time from work, rehab, and the loss of your vehicle.

Under Massachusetts law, if you are injured in a car crash or accident, there are a number of people or entities that may owe you compensation, including the following:

  • Your insurance company, under PIP coverage. Massachusetts is a “no fault” state, meaning that your insurance company will be liable for a certain portion of the damages under personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, as noted below. The amounts for this coverage should be paid fairly quickly, often within 30 days after a claim has been submitted.

 

  • Your insurance company, if the other driver is uninsured or underinsured, and you have such coverages on your insurance policy. Your insurance company may also be liable to you if the other driver was uninsured, or if they do not have sufficient insurance to fully compensate your damages, if you have purchased uninsured/underinsured liability coverage.  If the driver is uninsured or underinsured, you will need to file a claim against your insurance company for the compensation to which you may be entitled.  If other driver was uninsured, it may be a faster process to receive compensation from your insurance company than if the other driver was underinsured, as if the driver was uninsured it will be more clear that your insurance company is liable to you from the outset.

 

  • The driver who hit you. The driver responsible for causing the accident will be liable for the full amount of damages that are attributed to them.  If they are insured, their insurance company will be involved in the case, as discussed below.

 

  • Other defendants. Other defendants may include the owners of a bar who overserved the other driver (if they were drunk when they hit you), a town or municipality if they were at fault for malfunctioning traffic signals or another matters, or a construction company, if the crash happened in a construction zone that was not safe.

 

The time that your case will likely take will be dependent upon which of these people or entities is involved in your case.

Understanding Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Coverage

In most car accident cases, an insurance company or companies will be involved – likely your insurance company (if you were hit), as well as the insurance company for the driver who hit you (assuming they have coverage).  Ultimately, the amount that you will likely be able to collect for your damages, as well as whether you will be able to receive full compensation, will be dependent upon the type and amounts of your insurance coverage, as well as the amount of coverage maintained by the “at fault” driver.

Collecting from the Driver Who Hit You

In most cases, if you’ve been hit and injured in a car crash, your ability to recover damages will be directly dependent upon the amount of insurance carried by the at-fault driver.

Minimum Massachusetts Insurance Coverage Requirements

Auto insurance policies are made up of different types of insurance coverages; however, in Massachusetts vehicle owners are only required to carry, at a minimum, coverage for the following:

  • Bodily Injury to Others $20,000 per person; $40,000 per accident
  • Personal Injury Protection $8,000 per person, per accident
  • Bodily Injury Caused by an Uninsured Auto $20,000 per person; $40,000 per accident
  • Damage to Someone Else’s Property $  5,000 per accident

While many drivers will carry the minimum, others may purchase additional coverage, such as comprehensive or collision, with higher maximums.[1]  In a vehicle injury case, it is important to understand coverage maximums carried by your policy and that of the other driver, as insurance companies will not pay more than the applicable coverage limit of the policy.

PIP Coverage – Your First Avenue for Collecting Compensation

Unlike most states, Massachusetts follows a “no-fault” car insurance system.  Under this system, your personal car insurance coverage is usually responsible for paying for medical expenses and other bills incurred as a result of an accident, regardless of who caused the crash, up to certain limits.  Thus if you are injured in a vehicle crash, the first avenue is making a claim with your insurance company for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits.

PIP benefits cover damages arising out of a vehicle accident for the following:

  • Necessary and reasonable medical expenses (PIP will pay the first $2,000; other co-pays and deductibles can be billed back to PIP),
  • Lost wages/earnings of up to 75% of your earnings (which is subject to the $8,000 total PIP benefit and also to whether you are receiving disability benefits), and
  • Ordinary, necessary household services to hire an outside person or company, if you are injured and cannot perform these services yourself.

The total maximum benefit for PIP in Massachusetts is $8,000,[2] so PIP will likely not provide full coverage if serious damages result. PIP benefits do not include compensation for some types of non-monetary damages, such as pain and suffering.

Timing for PIP Benefits

Your insurance company should pay you for these damages within thirty days of a claim submission (again, up to the $8,000 cap) assuming that you have the legally-required coverage.  If your insurance company does not timely pay your claim, you may have a case of Insurance Bad Faith, which is a separate claim.  I help clients make a claim against their own insurance carrier for PIP benefits, as well as for bad faith claims if the insurance company does not pay what they owe in a timely manner (and if they do not have a valid reason for not paying the claim).

Suing the Responsible Driver

In Massachusetts, you are additionally entitled to sue others (including the at-fault driver) responsible for causing your damages if:

  • You have incurred at least $2,000 in reasonable medical expenses, and/or
  • You have sustained permanent and serious disfigurement, a fractured bone, or substantial loss of hearing or sight.

In these instances, a claim will be made against the responsible driver, and likely (if the other driver has insurance), the other driver’s insurance company (and lawyers hired by the insurance company) will be involved in defending the other driver.  As an experienced Massachusetts car accident lawyer, my role is to make your case to the insurance company and/or to their legal counsel for the full damages that you have sustained.

Documenting Full Damages

Obtaining full compensation starts by carefully documenting all past and expected future damages, including:

  • Property/vehicle damages
  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Other damages

I will help you with identifying, documenting, and proving at trial (if necessary) the full damages to which you may be entitled.

When Should a Car Accident Lawsuit Be Filed? Reaching a Medically-Stable Position

In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for filing most injury lawsuits (including car accident cases against private individuals or entities) is three years from the date of injury.  This means that you will have three years from the date of the accident to file a claim if you wish to seek compensation from the at-fault driver.

While a lawsuit can be filed at any time after an accident, it is sometimes beneficial when significant injuries have been sustained to wait until an accident victim has become medically stable, since there will be only one opportunity to seek full compensation.

As an example, an accident victim may have sustained a back injury.  Soon after the injury, the victim and doctors may believe that the back injury will be fully healed over the next year.  If litigation is immediately filed, the damages will be limited to those for a back injury lasting for one year, and that expectation that the injury will fully heal.

But what happens if, after a year, it turns out that the back injury is much worse than expected, and that future surgery will be required and the person will not be able to work at the same job because of the injury?  If a lawsuit has already been settled, the accident victim will not be able to sue for all of these additional damages, which can be substantial.

As a result, it usually will be important not to file a lawsuit until the full impact of the damages are known, unless the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit is about to expire.

Making a Claim and Filing a Lawsuit

In some instances, compensation can be obtained without the need for filing a lawsuit.  This is especially the case in situations where liability is clear, and the damages are not extensive.

If a claim cannot be settled, a lawsuit is the next step toward resolution.  Generally, a lawsuit can take nine months to three years from the date of the filing (the longer time period assumes that the case goes to trial.  Because about 95% of civil ligation matters are settled prior to trial, average car accident cases typically take 1-2 years.  Additionally, ancillary factors such as the number of people involved in the accident and their respective injuries, insurance policy limits, and medical bills may also affect the length of time it takes to resolve a case.

What Specific Factors Influence the Other Driver’s Insurance Company to Pay a Settlement?

When another driver’s insurance company is involved, there are three key factors that usually affect the timing of a settlement and payment:

  • Whether fault is clear. With respect to fault, matters such as having a police report, witness statements, or potential even video of the wrongful conduct of the other driver (such as showing the other driver running a red light), will be helpful.  In general, the more that it is clear that the other driver is at fault, the more quickly their insurance company will make a payment.

 

  • The amount of damages claimed. In general, insurance companies are usually more willing to pay claims quickly if the damages are relatively minor than if there are serious damages.  Conversely, when serious damages result – especially those that may lead to life-long complications involving severe debilitation, future medical treatment, significant lost wages, and ongoing pain and suffering, insurance companies tend to contest these claims more vigorously, except as noted in the next bullet point.

 

  • The policy limits of the at-fault driver. If the amount of the insurance policy is relatively small (for example, $50,000) and the damages are clearly high (such as millions of dollars, which may be the case if a person is severely and permanently injured), the insurance company may choose to pay the full policy limits relatively quickly, perhaps in 6 months to a year or so.  In these cases, the insurance company may not be interested in litigating the claim, as the damages involved will greatly exceed the policy limits.  On the other hand, they will highly contest a claim in which their liability will be much greater.

How I Can Help You

If you or your family has been injured in an automobile accident, please call me at (978) 851-5145 for a free consultation, and to learn about your options for seeking the compensation to which you deserve.  I and my firm have helped numerous Massachusetts car accident victims collect compensation for their injuries, and I will vigorously fight to help you secure the money you deserve.

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[1] Understanding Auto Insurance, Mass.gov, https://www.mass.gov/service-details/understanding-auto-insurance.

[2] M.G.L. c. 90, § 34M.