Injured in a Car Accident? Don’t Get Hurt Twice
If you’ve been injured in a car, truck, or motorcycle accident in Massachusetts, you may have to deal with a lot of confusing insurance terminology on top of getting your car fixed, going to doctors, and missing time from work.
The Massachusetts auto insurance system is complicated, and court decisions keep changing the rules, so learning about your rights may require specialized knowledge about the law as it applies now. I’ve been helping people recover after car accidents since 1982, and I know that insurance companies don’t like to pay money out on claims. Getting you the money you deserve is no accident.
If you were injured in a car, truck, or motorcycle accident, there are at least 9 questions you’ll probably have:
#1: Do I Have a Case ?
If you’ve been injured in a car accident that is clearly someone else’s fault, it doesn’t take a legal Einstein to tell you that you have a case to recover money for your injuries and lost earnings. But sometimes the answer isn’t so obvious, and there may be many steps along the road to recovery. You may not be aware that you could have a case even if:
- The other driver didn’t get a ticket from the police, or the police never responded to the scene of the accident.
- You were a passenger, a pedestrian, or you were riding on a bicycle
- You are entitled to collect worker’s compensation benefits from the accident
- The other driver has no insurance
- You can’t identify the other driver, or you were injured by a hit-and-run driver
It’s also important to remember that even if you have the right to recover money for your injuries, your case won’t just happen all by itself:
- Evidence can be lost after a collision. How ? Tire marks on the road will fade, damaged cars get repaired or junked, and witnesses can forget about the accident with the passage of time. Also, special time limits may apply to your claim (see below).
#2: What Is “No Fault” and Who Pays My Medical Bills ?
You may have heard that Massachusetts is a “no fault” state, but what does that mean for you ? In general, “no fault” / Personal Injury Protection insurance is for your medical bills and lost wages caused by a car accident. This coverage is included on all auto insurance policies in Massachusetts. The idea behind PIP benefits is simple: you shouldn’t have to pay out of your own pocket right after the accident to get treated for your injuries, because you should only be thinking about going to a doctor or hospital to have your injuries examined.
Who pays your medical expenses from a car accident ? Sometimes, this question has a simple answer, but sometimes it doesn’t. PIP insurance can cover up to as much as $8,000.00 in medical bills and lost earnings for you, regardless of who was at fault in the accident. But after years of court challenges by insurers over the fine print in your policy, just getting your PIP benefits paid after a car accident can be complicated by several factors:
- If you have health insurance, PIP coverage will only apply to the first $2,000.00 in bills, and then your health insurance has to pay the rest.
- There’s an extra $6,000.00 in PIP coverage: it’s supposed to cover co-payments and other items not fully covered by your health insurance. But you may have to follow your own health insurance company’s rules in getting treatment, or your own auto insurer may refuse to cover all your bills later.
- Your health insurer will probably deny any bills it gets from a car accident until they get proof that your auto insurer has paid at least the first $2,000.00 of PIP expenses caused by the accident.
- PIP insurance covers the driver and all the passengers inside a car, and it can also cover pedestrians or bicyclists who have been hit by a car.
- Which company’s PIP coverage applies to you may depend on whether you were in your own car, riding in someone else’s car, or if you were injured by a hit and run driver.
- The PIP insurer has a right to send you to medical exams by doctors or specialists of their choosing, and the PIP insurer may use their reports to try to stop you from getting the treatments you need.
- You may also have “Med-Pay” coverage available, to pay for another $5,000.00 or more in medical expenses from the accident.
#3: Was This a Work-Related Auto Accident ?
If you are entitled to worker’s compensation benefits because your motor vehicle accident was work-related, PIP does not apply to your medical expenses at all. Instead, all medical expenses should be covered by your employer’s worker’s compensation insurance.
- Even though you are entitled to collect worker’s compensation benefits, you may still have the right to bring a claim against the driver(s) who caused your injuries.
- The worker’s compensation insurer that pays your medical bills may have the right to sue in your name to recover their payments from whoever caused the accident, but you have the legal right to take charge of your own case. That right is exclusively yours in the first 7 months after the accident.
- Unlike car insurance, there are no dollar limits on your medical expenses covered by worker’s compensation.
- If you miss time from work because of a work-related accident, there are weekly
compensation payments and many other benefits you might collect as a result. [See my Worker’s Compensation pages on this site]
#4: Why Should Your Auto Insurer NEVER Be Your Only Source of Information About Your Rights After a Car Accident ?
Forget the gekko, the cavemen, and all those nice people who tell you about their insurance companies on TV. Insurance companies don’t like to pay money out on claims. Getting you the money you deserve is no accident.
- In most cases, your own company’s financial interests involve handling your PIP claim and collision claim, and seeing if they can get the other driver’s insurer to pay them back for what they’ve paid out on your accident.
- To your insurer, your rights to bring a claim for your own benefit for pain and suffering, lost earnings, and other damages are your own business.
- Your injuries represent “exposure” to any insurance company involved in your case – whether it’s your own company or the other driver’s. From the time any insurer learns about an accident, that company will try to save money, if possible. When it comes to paying out money, whether it’s for your medical benefits, lost wages, or bodily injuries, all insurers try to limit their “exposure” for making payments.
- The other driver’s liability insurance may not cover all your damages. When that happens, it may become necessary to bring an Under-Insured claim with your own car insurer, or even the insurer of a family member. Special rules apply to these claims.
- If you were injured by a hit-and-run driver, or if the driver who caused your injuries has no insurance, you may have a right to bring a claim for Uninsured benefits from your own car insurer or the insurer of a family member. Special rules also apply to these claims.
#5: What About Your Car ?
If you had collision coverage on your own policy, your company should handle this part of the claim for you. If not, you will be dealing with the other driver’s company, and their attitude about paying for the damage to your car may be affected by their desire to limit their “exposure” to pay you for your injuries later. There are some other hassles you may face, as well:
- If your car was towed from the scene of the accident, arrange to have it taken to a repair garage as soon as possible. Otherwise, you could be left with a hefty daily storage charge which your insurer may refuse to cover in full. Unfortunately, tow lot operators and insurance adjusters rarely seem to care that you were in the hospital or seriously injured after the accident.
- No repairs will be done until the insurance adjusters have checked the car out.
- If you have no collision coverage, the other driver’s company may be liable for all your damages. Always notify the other driver’s company of where your car can be appraised before you have it fixed.
- Don’t forget: valuable evidence can be lost through the passage of time. Your car and the other cars involved in the collision may contain some very important evidence. If the cars are fixed or “totaled” before photographs are taken, valuable evidence could be lost. This can involve tracking the cars down at the tow lots and getting photos before the cars are fixed or disposed of.
#6: How Many Insurers Are Involved in Your Case?
If you can bring a claim against someone for causing your injuries, which insurance company will be responsible for paying you? All the insurers that might be liable to you may not come right out and announce themselves. Even if only 1 car was involved in your accident, there could be 2 or more car insurers which may be available to pay money on your claim. Claims involving“uninsured” and “under-insured” benefits can turn on technicalities in the Massachusetts auto policy.
- In some cases, you may have the right to be paid by another driver’s insurance company, your own insurer, or even the insurers of family members.
- Some Massachusetts liability insurance coverage does not apply when the accident
happens outside of Massachusetts.
- If you were a passenger in someone else’s car, you may be able to recover money from the driver’s policy, your policy, or even the policy of a family member.
- You may not know how to identify which car insurers might pay out on your injuries, but they may refuse to pay you later because you didn’t notify them about your injuries within certain time limits.
#7: What Time Limits May Apply to Your Claim ?
Time limits from a “statute of limitations” can prevent you from bringing a claim or from being repaid for your expenses if you wait too long to bring a claim. There are other time limits that can apply, based on language in the Massachusetts auto insurance policy.
- There is usually a 3 year “statute of limitations” on bringing a case against someone for causing injuries in Massachusetts, including injuries caused in car accidents. But there are exceptions to this rule that can make the time limit shorter or longer, depending on the circumstances of a particular case.
- Different time limits may apply to your claim if the accident happened in another state.
- You may be able to file a claim with your own company for Un-insured or Under-insured benefits, but the company may insist on being notified promptly of the accident. This may also apply in some unexpected circumstances like hit-and-run cases, or where it turns out the other driver has no insurance, even though you may have no way of knowing that your own policy might apply later.
#8: What if a Truck Driver Caused Your Injuries ?
Accidents caused by trucks, especially interstate freight trucks are NOT just another car accident. Large trucks can cause major damage to those vehicles they come in contact with, and truck accidents can become very complicated soon after they happen.
- There is a special State Police unit that is supposed to investigate interstate truck
accidents in Massachusetts.
- Many truck drivers carry cameras with them in case of an accident, and they are under instructions to call their company’s claims people first, and let them do the talking. A team of investigators, claims adjusters, and lawyers may be ready to respond to your accident before you’re even out of the hospital.
#9: Do You Need a Lawyer, and What Will it Cost You ?
Your car insurer is under no obligation to tell you if you have a case to recover money for your injuries, and your friends and family may not know if you have a case, what insurers may be available to pay you, or what time limits may apply to your claim.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, I may be able to help you in the following ways:
- I work with insurance adjusters and claims people on a daily basis; you may not want to.
- It’s my job to know the traffic laws, rules and insurance regulations. Experience from handling car accident cases since 1982 also helps.
- What will it cost ? No Fee Unless Successful: I handle all auto accident cases on a “contingent fee” basis. My fee for legal services is based on a percentage of the actual recovery I can get for you for your injuries, and the fee is only paid at the time of recovery. (I do not take a percentage or charge a fee for your “PIP” benefits).
- Telephone Consultations, House Calls and Hospital Visits: Since you may not be able to come to me after a car accident, call for a free consultation.