Most personal accident cases are based on the legal theory of negligence. Essentially, negligence comes about when a person owes a duty of care to others, breaches that duty, and causes damages as a result of that breach. In a simple case involving a collision between two cars, a driver owes a duty of care to other drivers on the road, and breaches that duty by driving carelessly. As a result of this carelessness, another driver is hurt. The driver who caused the accident through negligence can be held liable for damages suffered by the other driver.
However, many cases are not so simple. Sometimes, more than one person is at fault in an accident. Can an injured person recover compensation if they were partly at fault for the accident that injured them? In Massachusetts, the answer lies in the theory of contributory negligence.
Massachusetts law provides that an injured person who contributed to an accident can recover compensation so long as they were no more than 50% at fault for the accident. However, the injured person’s recovery would be reduced in proportion to their contribution to the accident.
To give an example, imagine an accident in which Astrid fails to use her signal before turning left, and is injured when she is struck by Beatrice, who is texting on her smartphone instead of watching the road ahead of her. Astrid must be hospitalized and suffers $10,000 in damages. A court examines the evidence and determines that Astrid is 35% to blame for the crash and Beatrice is 65% at fault. Because Astrid’s contribution to the accident was less than Beatrice’s contribution, Astrid may recover compensation for her damages. However, the court reduces her recovery by 35% because Astrid’s recovery must be reduced in proportion to her share of fault for the accident.
Beatrice cannot recover compensation from Astrid, because Beatrice’s contribution to the fault was more than 50%.
The medical expenses, lost wages and other damages resulting from an accident can be enormous. It is important for the injured and their families to talk to a personal injury attorney about their legal options for pursuing compensation.