John Maher talks with Rob Mazow and Robert Hartigan from the personal injury law firm Mazow McCullough about car accident liability. They explain how no-fault rules differ from the concepts of fault, liability, and negligence. Then, they look at how technology helps to assess liability, and they cover different types of compensation in car accident cases.
John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Rob Mazow and Robert Hartigan of the law firm, Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. And today, we’re talking about car accident liability. Rob and Robert, welcome.
Robert Hartigan: Thanks, John.
Rob Mazow: Hey, John.
Difference Between Fault, Negligence, and Liability
John: So Rob, can you explain the differences or similarities between fault, negligence and liability in regards to car accidents?
Rob: Sure. In Massachusetts, particularly, we live in a no fault state when it comes to car accidents. People get confused about what that means, but let me try to explain it as best I can. When you’re in a car accident, regardless of who is at fault for the accident, the car that you’re in, the insurance company is going to pay for your medical bills. That’s what no fault means.
Rob: Now, I was just explaining this to a new client recently, before we started this podcast, John, and I was explaining to her that her insurance company is going to get reimbursed by the at fault insurance company, because she was concerned. She said, “Why would my insurance company pay for this? I wasn’t at fault.”
And I explained to her that because we’re in a no fault state, the insurance company of the car that she was in, her auto insurance company, is going to make her life a little easier by paying her medical bills for her. Then, they’re going to get reimbursed in what’s called subrogation from the at fault insurance company.
Negligence, Fault, and Liability
Rob: Now, when we talk about fault, we’re talking about who was liable or who was negligent, who was the cause of the accident. The person who caused the accident is ultimately going to be responsible for making the person that they hit whole. You pay their medical bills, reimbursing for their medical bills, paying for their pain and suffering, paying for their property damage, paying for any scarring and things like that.
So when we talk about negligence and fault and liability, that’s one thing. When we talk about no fault and medical bills, that’s a whole separate issue.
Insurance Coverage in No-Fault States
John: Well, I guess in a way people are confused because they think, well, it’s a no fault state. That means nobody was at fault for this accident or we’re not determining who was at fault, but that’s not really entirely true. There is somebody who’s at fault for the accident. It’s just that my insurance company is going to pay for my bills, at least initially, and that’s all I have to be concerned about in terms of this.
Rob: Right. At least initially. Believe me, the insurance company is not doing anything benevolent here. They’re going to get paid back by the other insurance company, or are they going to do what they … They have intercompany arbitration if there’s a dispute as to who is ultimately at fault. But generally what happens is your insurance company pays for your medical bills, then turns around to the other insurance company and gets paid back for those.
Determining Liability in Car Accidents
John: So how is liability then determined in a car accident?
Rob: Well, there’s so many factors that come in. So first of all, it’s the rules of the road, the typical rules of the road. If somebody goes through a red light and somebody has a green light, well, the person who has a red light is going to be found to be at fault.
If there’s … well, It becomes more difficult when you get to a four way intersection where everybody has a stop sign and two people end up going into the intersection at the same time. Well, who’s at fault? We have to look at, see, a lot of factors. Best if we can find an independent witness who can say, “Well, the red car went through the stop sign first.” So the red car can be responsible and not the white car.
The other thing we can look at is the impact as to where these cars struck each other. Let’s say in a four way intersection, if a car is hit in the back right side, well, we’re going to say that that car probably got through into the intersection first, before it was struck by the other vehicle, because the other vehicle hit it in its rear.
We’re going to look at cameras, if there’s any cameras at the intersection. We’re going to look at video surveillance of houses. A lot of houses have these ring doorbells and we send an investigator out to find out whether we can get access to those.
So when you say to determine who’s at fault, it’s a whole stew of things that we need to filter through to find out.
Investigating Fault in Car Accidents
Robert: In some car accidents, especially in catastrophic injury accidents and wrongful death accidents. We’ll send an investigator. I mean, we’ll have an inspection done of the vehicles at some point. I mean, there’s electronic data that is contained in the vehicles, which can be helpful to us proving that the other driver was liable.
Rob: Robert brings up a good point and that is these vehicles these days can provide us with an awful lot of information as to what happened in an accident. The airbag modules can tell us how fast the vehicle was going within a few seconds before impact. So speed becomes an issue.
We can hire somebody with a great action reconstructionist who can go out and look at that car, look at what they call the black box and find out how fast these vehicles were going. And that can be critical in trying to find out who’s responsible for an accident. So as Robert mentions, depending upon the severity of the accident, will depend on how far and how deep we need to go into evaluating what happened.
Robert: And people are often using mobile applications on their phones when they’re driving. So there could be some data that we could use there to help with the case. So there’s really a lot that we can look at to help prove liability.
How Technology Helps Determine Liability
John: Right. That’s what’s really changed a lot from years ago, where, like you said, you have mobile phones, you have the cars internal computers that tell how fast you were going, how fast you stopped, things like that. And then the ring doorbells and things like that, that you were talking about, Rob. The technology must really be helping in terms of that investigation portion of the case where you can really find out a lot of the details that you might not have been able to find out years ago.
Rob: Well, the other resource we have is sometimes people will post on their Twitter or their Facebook or their Instagram account. “Hey, I just went barreling through an intersection. Here’s my car.” Well, we can also use that kind of information to help us investigate as well. Not necessarily the technical art of the situation, but there’s various ways we can try to piece these cases together.
John: Social media. Yeah.
Why You Should Contact an Attorney After an Auto Accident
Robert: And that’s why it’s so important to reach out to an attorney right away is because we want to be able to get our hands on that data and get that data preserved. Because a lot of times, it goes in this thing, it’s destroyed and it just puts us in a tougher spot to make our case. So that’s why we need to be able to jump on it right away.
Compensation for Victims of Car Accidents
John: So what types of compensation are available for victims of a car accident?
Rob: Well, first and foremost, property damage. We can get reimbursed for property damage or what happened to their vehicle or their property, maybe it got damaged in the accident. Medical bills. We can get compensation for a person’s medical bills as they are reasonably related to the treatment that they receive from the accident. And that could be done in several ways. The first way is through the personal injury protection portion of the insurance of the car that they’re in, which is called PIP. And then we can get the rest of the medical bills taken care of through the coordination with their health insurance benefits.
And then, ultimately, we can get compensation for the pain and suffering of going through the accident, the permanent scarring, maybe there’s some mental health issues that are involved, some PTSD, some anxiety. So we can get compensation if there’s a loss of limb or unfortunate situation or a loss of enjoyment of life. And we’ll be able to package that as a personal injury charge. And we are able to package that in such a way that we can present it to the insurance company or the at fault driver to try to maximize the amount of recovery for the victim.
Compensation for Serious Injuries and Disfigurement
Robert: And then there’s times where a serious accident will cause disfigurement. So maybe facial scarring. That’s another damage that we can get recovered for the client. If the client has been disabled, permanently disabled, there is loss of future earnings. So there’s a lot, depending on how serious the accident is, that we can look to get a recovery for the client.
Compensation for Loss of Future Earnings
John: Does the loss of future earnings get into issues where if I work specifically with my hands all day, and then my hands are injured in the accident, that I could maybe get more compensation because now I can’t work. Is that the way that that works?
Rob: Yeah, exactly. Depending on what you do for a living, if you use your hands and your injured your hands in an accident, well, of course that’s going to be a loss of earning capacity there. If you strictly use another part of your body, not your hands, but your hands are injured, then you’re going to have less of a problem because you still be able to work. So it depends on what you do for living, as well as what parts of your body are injured for us to get you compensation for that.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Benefits
John: You mentioned before PIP benefits. Can you go into a little bit more detail about what those are?
Rob: Sure. Massachusetts has what’s called personal injury protection on it’s automobile policies that are required to be on the road. What that does is it offers up to $8,000 of payment for medical bills for treatment that is reasonable, related and necessary for the car accident. So what happens is if you’re in a car accident and get hurt, let’s say it’s something straightforward like whiplash and you want to get chiropractic care. You go to the chiropractors and the PIP benefits will pay up to $8,000 for the chiropractic care. Of course, if you have private health insurance though, the PIP will pay the first $2,000 towards those benefits and then your private health insurance will pick up the rest. Whatever your private health insurance doesn’t pick up, goes back to the PIP carrier to be paid until that $8,000 has been what they say is exhausted or are fully spent.
Contact Mazow McCullough If You’ve Been in an Accident
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Rob and Robert, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Rob: Thanks, John.
Robert: Yeah. Thank you.
John: And for more information, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call (855) 693-9084.