Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Massachusetts roads are safer than the roads of any other state when it comes to the frequency of fatal accidents – only the District of Columbia is safer. Nevertheless, that still adds up to about 300 fatalities and thousands of injuries per year. Car accident lawsuits are governed primarily by Massachusetts state law, although local law sometimes comes into play.

Statute of Limitations: The statute of limitations tells you how long you have to file a lawsuit before your claim expires. Massachusetts implements a three-year rule – you have three years from the date of a car accident to file a lawsuit for personal injury or property damage, and three years from the date of the victim’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: Massachusetts has adopted a modified comparative fault system. A court or an insurance company will assign a degree of fault to each party involved in the accident. If the victim is partly at fault, a corresponding amount will be deducted from his damages – 20 percent, for example, if he was 20 percent at fault. If the victim is found to be mostly at fault (51 percent or more), his damages will be reduced to zero.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Massachusetts is a “no-fault” auto insurance state. You cannot file a lawsuit or a claim against the other driver’s liability insurance policy unless your medical bills were at least $2,000 or your injuries were serious or debilitating (as defined by statute).

Minimum Insurance Coverage: In Massachusetts, you must carry auto accident insurance with maximum coverage limits of no less than $20,000 per victim, $40,000 per accident and $5,000 for property damage (20/40/5).

Uninsured/Underinsured Drivers Coverage: Massachusetts drivers must carry uninsured driver liability insurance with maximum coverage limits of no less than $20,000 per victim and $40,000 per accident.

Types of Damages Available: Compensatory damages are available, but non-economic damages such as pain and suffering are limited to $500,000 in medical malpractice cases. Punitive damages are almost impossible to obtain.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): Anyone filing a lawsuit against the Massachusetts state government for money damages must proceed under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, which contains procedural requirements and time limitations that do not apply to lawsuits against private parties.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All riders must wear helmets on Massachusetts roads.

Seat Belt Laws: All occupants 13 years old or older must wear seat belts. The maximum first-offense fine is $25. This is a secondary offense – the officer must stop you for another infraction first before he can cite you under the seat belt law.

Dram Shop Law: Licensed alcohol vendors who serve minors under 21 or intoxicated adults can be sued by a third party who is injured by the drinker. Social hosts face limited liability for serving minors under 21, but no third-party liability for serving intoxicated adults.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): Massachusetts’ DUI laws are harsh. A first offense can land you in jail for up to 30 months, and you can be fined between $500 and $5,000. Your driver’s license will be suspended for a year.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Texting while driving is forbidden for all drivers in Massachusetts. On-duty school bus drivers and minors under 18 may not use cell phones while driving, even if they are not hand-held.