Legal Dictionary (Findlaw)
Automobile accidents are by far the most common form of injuries sustained by individuals. While automobile accidents are commonplace, you must be careful to insure that your rights are protected. The following summarizes some issues you should be aware of if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident. Consult your lawyer right away if you are involved in an accident that involves personal injuries or serious property damage.
If you are involved in an automobile accident you must stop your car. It is a crime to leave the scene of an accident without making your identity known. The penalties for leaving the scene of an accident after causing personal injury can be severe. Once your car comes to stop, you should leave it in its final resting position unless it causes a safety hazard. The location of your automobile following an accident can be very important if it is necessary to reconstruct the accident. If your car comes to stop in a dangerous location, you should remove it to the nearest safe location.
Once you are able, call the police to the scene of the accident. The police officer will complete an accident report which will document the name of the individuals involved in the accident, a description of the accident, the names of witnesses and witness statements. Other than disclosing your name, address and insurance carrier to the other driver, and showing your driver's license, give no statements, oral or written, to anyone except the police officer investigating the accident. Above all, do not admit responsibility for the accident. If you are concerned that criminal charges may be filed, you need not make any statements to the police. Furthermore, if you have consumed alcohol, you should refuse to perform any field sobriety tests and should refuse to answer any questions, other than to provide your license to the police officer. Prior to taking a breathalyzer test, you should consult an attorney so he or she can advise you of your rights.
You should make sure that you obtain and make notes of the following information while at the scene of the accident:
In Massachusetts, M.G.L. c. 90, Section 25 requires that "Every person operating a motor vehicle which is involved in an accident in which any person is killed or injured or which there is damage in excess of one thousand dollars to any one vehicle or other property shall, within five days after such accident, report in writing to the registrar on a form approved by him and send a copy thereof to the police department having jurisdiction on the way where the accident occurred….The registrar may revoke or suspend the license of any person violating any provision of this section." You should be able to obtain a copy of the report form from the police, your insurance agent, your attorney or the Registry of Motor Vehicles. If anyone was injured as a result of the accident or there is any possibility that you may be charged with a crime as a result of the accident, you should consult an attorney prior to filing the accident report. In any event, you should keep a copy of the report that you file.
If you or any of your passengers have been injured, you should seek immediate medical attention. As will be discussed below, there is mandatory Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance which will pay for medical expenses incurred relating to injuries arising out of a motor vehicle accident. If you have been injured, do not delay in receiving treatment as this will undoubtedly be used against you should you have to file a claim for pain and suffering. Also, you should be certain to fully describe any injuries to the nurses and doctors you see following the accident.
As soon as possible after the accident, you should notify your insurance company of the accident. You should notify your insurance company within twenty-four (24) hours of the accident. If you fail to promptly notify your insurance company, it may have grounds to deny coverage of your claim. You should make sure that also inform the insurance company in writing of the accident. This is usually done by sending the insurance company a copy of the accident report.
Automobile accidents are by far the most common causes of personal injuries sustained by individuals. If you have suffered physical injuries requiring medical care, you should know that the following categories of auto insurance coverage MAY be available to pay your medical bills and provide compensation for your pain:
1. PIP (Personal Injury Protection)
This mandatory coverage, sometimes referred to as "no fault insurance", is available through the policy for the auto in which you were an occupant or, if you were a pedestrian, through the policy for the auto that hit you. This insurance is available to you notwithstanding whether anyone was negligent in causing the accident.
PIP covers medical expenses, 75% of wages actually lost due to an auto accident and "replacement services" such as house cleaning and baybsitting if you normally perform these for your household and are unable to do so because of your injuries.
PIP pays the first $2,000 of your medical expenses, regardless of whether you have regular health insurance. PIP covers medical bills in excess of $2,000 only to the extent that they are not covered by your health insurance.
The maximum for all PIP benefits payable for injury to one person is $8,000.
2. Optional Medical Payments Coverage
This optional coverage for medical expenses may be available through the policy for the auto in which you were an occupant, through your own policy or through the policy of a household member. This coverage pays medical expenses not paid under the PIP coverage even if you have health insurance.
3. Bodily Injury Coverage
All autos registered in Massachusetts must be covered by a minimum of $20,000 per person or $40,000 per accident for bodily injury caused by the driver to another person. Higher optional limits may be available and are strongly recommended.
Recovery for bodily injury is available only if the injured party's medical expenses (including doctor's and hospital bills and prescriptions) exceed $2,000, or if there is a fracture, or if there is loss of life, or if certain serious or permanent injuries occur. Damages recoverable include medical expenses to the extent not covered by PIP, lost income and capacity to earn income and compensation for pain and suffering.
If you are injured through the fault of another driver, you will need to file a claim against the Bodily Injury Coverage portion of the other driver's insurance policy. If you were negligent and injured another person while operating a motor vehicle, your insurance company will indemnify you for any claims brought by the injured person up to the limit of your Bodily Injury Coverage. Prior to any insurance company paying a claim for under Bodily Injury Coverage, it will have to be establish that their insured was negligent. Therefore, you should seek the assistance of an attorney whenever filing a claim to collect for personal injury.
4. Uninsured Coverage
If the responsible driver is uninsured, you may recover damages for bodily injury under the uninsured coverage of your own auto policy or that of a household member.
The mandatory minimum coverage is $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident. Higher optional limits are often available and are highly recommended. Some states do not require autos registered there to carry this minimum or even and insurance at all. Therefore, we highly recommend that you carry optional uninsurance and underinsurance coverage for your own vehicle equal to the amount of bodily injury coverage you carry to protect others.
5. Optional Underinsurance Coverage
This optional coverage is available through your own auto policy or that of a household member in case your bodily injury damages exceed the limit of the responsible party's policy. The amount potentially recoverable is determined by subtracting the bodily injury coverage limit for the responsible party from your policy's underinsurance limit.
You may think that if the party does not have enough insurance, you will recover from his or her other assets, however most often those who carry the minimum insurance have no assets and your recovery becomes limited to their insurance policy. Also, the party at fault may opt to file Bankruptcy and in doing so again leave you with only his or her insurance to satisfy your claim. The only sure way to protect yourself and family members from this type situation is to understand how the uninsured and underinsured part of you auto insurance policy works.
Whenever you or a family member is involved in an accident, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible after the accident. The early involvement of an attorney is necessary to insure that crucial evidence is obtained prior to it being lost. The best time to take a statement from a witness is shortly after the accident. Memories fade with time and this unavoidable fact can devastate a case. Also, if you do not obtain photographs of an automobile during the first week following the accident, you will often loose the opportunity to obtain photographs at all. The cars are either repaired or sent to crusher shortly after accidents. Furthermore, if the assistance of an accident re-constructionist is necessary, he or she will have to inspect skid marks, oil spills, debris fields, damage to guard rails, gouge marks, and yaw marks. All of this evidence can be lost if it is not documented immediately; therefore, it is necessary to obtain the assistance of an attorney as soon as possible. You can be certain that the insurance company will have its investigator collect this information soon after the accident.
We have provided some client information forms. If you are interested in having LeClair & LeClair, P.C. handle your case, please feel free to fill out the following client information form. If you have sent us a client information form and have not heard from us within 24 hours, please make sure that you telephone us to insure we received your information. Prior to LeClair & LeClair, P.C. accepting any case and assuming responsibility for that case, you will have to have a consultation with one of our attorneys and a written fee agreement will have to be executed by you and LeClair & LeClair, P.C.. While not all injuries give rise to a cause of action, we are willing to provide you with a free, no commitment consultation to discuss your case. Whether or not LeClair & LeClair, P.C. agrees to handle your case, any information that is provided to us will be kept confidential and will not be given to any third party without your consent.