Massachusetts Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules
Learn about personal injury fault and liability rules, damage caps, the statute of limitations, and more in Massachusetts.
If you've been injured in Massachusetts, it's helpful to know something about the state laws that apply to accidents and personal injury claims. These laws may apply whether you decide to file a lawsuit in court or just pursue a settlement with an insurance company.
Filing Deadlines for Massachusetts Injury Lawsuits
Massachusetts has its own deadline, or "statute of limitations," for filing a personal injury lawsuit in the state's civil court system after an accident. This law gives you three years to file a personal injury lawsuit in a Massachusetts court.
For most cases, this three-year time limit starts to run on the date of the accident. In rare cases, if you suffered a latent injury that couldn't be detected until some time after the accident, the three-year time limit may not start to run until the "discovery date."
The bottom line is you need to pay close attention to this three-year window, because if you don't get your lawsuit filed within it, you'll lose your right to have a court hear your injury case. That may not seem like such a big deal when you're focused on a quick injury settlement with the insurance carrier, but it will start to matter if settlement talks break down and you need to explore other options (taking the case to court).
For injury claims against a city, county, or state government agency, you have two years to file a formal claim, and three years to file a lawsuit. See: Injury Claims Against The Government
Comparative Fault in Massachusetts
"Comparative fault" rules are used to resolve cases in which an injured person is found to share some level of fault for an injury. Massachusetts's version of the comparative fault rule reduces damages if an injured person shares less than 50 percent of the fault, and eliminates damages for an injured person who shares 50 percent or more of the fault.
Here's an example. Suppose you're shopping in a grocery store one day when you trip and fall on a broken floor tile. You didn't see the tile because you were distracted by looking at a display. Eventually, it is determined that your total damages equal $10,000, but that you are 10 percent at fault for the accident, while the grocery is 90 percent at fault.
Under the comparative fault rule in Massachusetts, your $10,000 total damages award will be reduced by 10 percent, or $1,000, since you were assigned 10 percent of the fault. You will be allowed to collect up to $9,000 in damages from the other party. If your fault had been 50 percent or more, however, you would be prohibited from collecting anything at all from any other party.
Massachusetts courts must apply the comparative fault rule when an injury lawsuit makes it to the trial stage and liability findings and jury awards are entered into the record. However, the rule may also come up during insurance settlement negotiations, so be prepared.
"No-Fault" Laws for Car Accident Cases
Massachusetts is a "no-fault" state when it comes to auto insurance and car accidents. In a no-fault state, those injured in car accidents are expected to seek compensation under their own coverage. In most cases, you cannot step outside the no-fault system and pursue a claim against another party unless your case meets certain thresholds, specifically:
- you have more than $2,000 in reasonable medical expenses, and/or
- you have suffered a permanent and serious disfigurement, broken bone, and/or loss of hearing or sight.
Since the injury threshold is a bit vague -- for example, what kind of injury rises to the level of "serious disfigurement" -- you may have flexibility to negotiate whether or not your claim must be limited to the no-fault system.
See No Fault Claims for Auto Accidents for more information.
"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In Massachusetts however, a specific statute (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann., ch. 140, § 155) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog. Specifically, the statute reads:
“If any dog” [injures a person or their property, the dog owner] “shall be liable for such damage, unless such damage shall have been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog.”
Each state handles damages in personal injury cases a bit differently. Some states place a "cap," or limit, on damages in certain types of cases, like medical malpractice, and/or on certain types of damages, like non-economic or "pain and suffering" damages. Massachusetts sets a cap of $500,000 on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases only, unless an injured person can show that he or she suffered any of the following:
- a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function,
- substantial disfigurement, or
- other special circumstances in the case that indicate applying the cap would deprive the injured person of a just result.
Keep in mind that these caps don't apply to most injury claims, just those that stem from medical malpractice.
More on Massachusetts Injury Law
Part III, Title II of Massachusetts's General Laws covers the procedures in personal injury cases.