How Does Contributory Negligence Work in MA?

If you happen to get injured in an accident, your conduct might affect the compensation you obtain for a personal injury lawsuit, even if someone else is also responsible. The contributory fault laws in Massachusetts might prevent you from obtaining damages for your case.

When an accident involves multiple parties, each party might bear some degree of responsibility. This is where contributory fault, commonly known as comparative negligence, comes into play. In Massachusetts, understanding how comparative negligence laws work can be crucial in determining the strength of your case and the compensation you might be entitled to. Just because you contributed to causing your injuries does not mean you do not have the right to recover compensation.

For a free case evaluation with our Massachusetts personal injury attorneys, contact the Law Office of John J. Sheehan today at (617) 925-6407.

How Does Comparative Negligence Work in Massachusetts?

In a personal injury lawsuit, the primary issue dealt with is determining who was at fault for the accident. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent. However, what happens when the defendant denies responsibility and claims that the plaintiff caused or contributed to the accident? This is when the defendant’s defense will be based on contributory negligence.

Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 231 § 85 establishes a modified comparative negligence rule in Massachusetts. While this rule might be complex, our Cambridge personal injury attorneys can review your case and help determine the compensation you can likely recover. According to the modified comparative negligence rule, if the plaintiff’s negligence exceeds the combined negligence of all defendants, the plaintiff is barred from recovering damages. If the plaintiff’s negligence is 50% or less, they might recover damages, but the award is reduced in proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the plaintiff. However, if the plaintiff is found to have contributed less than 50% towards the accident, they can still recover compensation.

Another critical aspect of comparative negligence is that the plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their share of the blame. For instance, if a plaintiff is awarded $100,000 in damages but is found to be 20 percent at fault for the injury, the damage award is reduced by 20 percent. Therefore, the plaintiff would receive a net damages award of $80,000.

How Does Joint and Several Liability Work in Massachusetts?

Joint and several liability is closely related to the concept of comparative fault and refers to the shared responsibility among different defendants. When multiple parties are held jointly and severally liable for an act of negligence, each party is independently responsible for the entire extent of injuries caused by that negligence. In other words, if an injured person wins a judgment against multiple parties collectively, they can collect the full amount of that judgment from any one of them. The defendant who pays the judgment then has the right to seek reimbursement from the other parties for their share of the liability. However, if a defendant settles with the plaintiff before the trial, the remaining defendants cannot seek partial reimbursement from that defendant.

Consider an example. Two drivers, Driver 1 and Driver 2, get into an accident. Driver 1 is injured and decides to sue Driver 2, Driver 2’s employer, Driver 2’s auto insurance company, and the city. Driver 1 claims the city negligently designed the road where the accident occurred. The city decides to settle with Driver 1 out-of-court. However, the other defendants refuse to settle, and the case proceeds to trial.

During the trial, the jurors found that the defendants are 80% at fault while Driver 1 is 20% at fault. The jurors award $100,000 in damages. Due to Driver 1’s comparative fault, he can only collect 80% of the damages, which amounts to $80,000. Driver 1 can collect this amount solely from the auto insurance company.

The auto insurance company might seek reimbursement from Driver 2 and Driver 2’s employer but not from the city, as the city has already settled. If Driver 2 and Driver 2’s employer are unable to pay, the auto insurance company will still be responsible for paying all of the defendants’ apportioned damages. Juries in Massachusetts cannot apportion damages to absent defendants, including those who have already settled.

What Needs to Be Shown to Prove Negligence in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, negligence law consists of four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. The person claiming negligence must prove each of these four elements to make his or her case using a preponderance of evidence.

Negligence can only be established when the defendant owes the plaintiff a legal duty to use reasonable care. Legal duty exists if there is a reasonable foreseeability that some act or omission would cause some type of knowable harm.

The breach of a legal duty is the act or omission that causes the harm and is a deviation from reasonable care. The amount of care that a prudent person would exercise varies with the circumstances.

A negligent act by itself is not enough to establish legal negligence unless the act causes some damages.  The plaintiff must establish a causal link between the negligent conduct and some injury.

Damages are monetary compensation for a victim’s injuries and losses. Monetary damages are awarded by a judge or jury if and only if there has been a finding of liability. The guiding principle for calculating damages is what is fair and reasonable for the victim’s losses.

How to Minimize Your Contributory Negligence in Massachusetts

If you happen to be involved in an accident, it is advisable to take certain steps to reduce your portion of the fault. Seeking medical attention right away is crucial. This not only helps to establish a link between the accident and your injuries but also reduces any chances of a disagreement that your injuries were caused by a different factor. By doing so, you can protect yourself from being blamed for an accident that wasn’t your fault.

To ensure a thorough investigation of an accident, it is crucial to gather as much evidence as possible from the scene. This includes obtaining witness statements, taking photos and videos, and documenting all available details. By collecting this information, it is possible to establish what occurred during the incident and determine who might be at fault.

If you have suffered a personal injury, it is crucial to hire an attorney with ample experience in handling similar cases. An experienced personal injury attorney can assist you in gathering evidence, building a solid case, and advocating on your behalf. With their expertise, they can also help to minimize your percentage of fault and negotiate the best possible settlement for your case. Do not hesitate to seek the help of a seasoned personal injury attorney to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.

Our Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorneys Can Help

Call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 925-6407 for a free case review with our Peabody, MA personal injury lawyers.