In a Massachusetts personal injury case the two elements that must be addressed are liability and damages. The idea is that if someone is injured because of another person’s negligence or carelessness, then the injured person should be compensated. Therefore, in personal injury cases liability must be addressed and determined first before damages are considered. In some situations, there are differences of opinion as to who is responsible for the injuries and how much an injured party should be compensated. When there are disputes and disagreements about fault and injuries, litigation is usually contemplated. Litigation is defined as the process of taking legal action to a courtroom to enforce rights. The party bringing the lawsuit wants to get their case in front of a jury at a trial so the jury can make the decision of who caused the accident and how much the injured person should be compensated.
How to Determine if a Lawsuit Needs to be Filed
In common personal injury cases, such as car accidents and slip and falls, there are usually two parties involved: the injured party (or claimant) and the at-fault party. In a car accident case, the injured party pursues a claim for damages against the other driver’s insurance company. In a slip and fall case, the injured party will pursue a claim against the property owner’s insurance company. In both cases the injured party will claim that the other party was negligent and caused the injuries. Insurance companies can deny that their insured was negligent or that the injuries were from the accident. If a claim is denied a lawsuit can be filed.
Liability is Disputed and the Claim is Denied
When a claim is filed the insurance company will conduct an investigation. As party of their investigation they try to, among other things, talk to witnesses, get police reports, and obtain photographs. If after their investigation the other person’s insurance company concludes that their insured was not negligent then they will usually deny the claim. This is primarily the reason an injured person should not speak with the other party’s insurance company before consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer. The insurance adjuster will try to get the injured person to say something that they can use against them to argue that they caused their own injuries. In fact, this is one of the three most important things we recommend people to do immediately following an accident. If a claim is denied, the injured person must file a lawsuit to purse financial compensation for their injuries.
For Example: if two cars collide in an intersection and both claim to have had a green light, without any additional evidence to support either side, a dispute as to liability occurs. An insurance company would normally deny liability with such a dispute and a lawsuit would have to be filed.
Liability is Accepted, but Damages/Injuries are Disputed
In a lot of cases an insurance company accepts liability, that is, they acknowledge their insured was negligent. This means there is no dispute about who caused the accident. Now, just because an insurance company accepts liability on behalf of their insured doesn’t mean that a lawsuit is never filed. If liability is accepted then the next step is determining damages.
In a personal injury claim, whether it’s a slip and fall, car crash, and truck accident, where liability is accepted, a demand for compensation for medical bills, expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering is made for settlement. If the insurance company, who accepted liability, disputes the injuries or damages and an agreement for settlement cannot be reached after negotiations, then the injured person can file a lawsuit against the person responsible for the accident.
For Example: If a person suffers a back injury after being rear-ended by another driver, the injured person files a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. The other driver’s insurance company may accept liability, that their driver was at-fault and caused the accident, but dispute the injury and damages sought by the injured party. They may contend that the back injury was preexisting and that the rear-end collision didn’t cause any further back injury. In that case, the insurance company may refuse to compensate the injured party for the medical bills, any lost wages, and pain and suffering. The injured party would have to file a lawsuit to pursue compensation for the injuries suffered in the car accident.
How Massachusetts Personal Injury Lawsuits Are Commenced
The first step to begin a personal injury lawsuit in Massachusetts is to file a Complaint. A Complaint is the first official legal document to be filed with the proper Massachusetts court to begin a lawsuit. This document generally lays out broad details of the lawsuit, such as:
- the parties to the lawsuit: the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) and the defendant (the alleged wrongdoer);
- the facts of how the accident occurred and how the defendant caused it;
- the injuries the plaintiff suffered; and,
- the legal cause of action asserted against the defendant (usually a Negligence cause of action in personal injury cases).
For example, in a personal injury case, the plaintiff can draft a Complaint claiming the defendant drover his/her car negligently, rear-ended the plaintiff, and caused the plaintiff’s injuries; or the plaintiff claims the defendant negligently failed to remove or treat snow and ice from their property, which caused the plaintiff to slip and fall causing the injuries.
After the Complaint is filed, the plaintiff, or their attorney, must serve, or physically deliver, the Complaint to the defendant. This ensures that the defendant cannot later claim he or she was unaware of the lawsuit. The defendant will then have a certain time to file an Answer to the Complaint. Once a Complaint is filed and the defendant has answered the Complaint, the parties move on to the discovery phase of litigation. It is through discovery that parties to a lawsuit can investigate the facts of the case and obtain evidence to help substantiate the claim or help defend the case.
Lawsuits and the legal rules that govern them are complex. This is why anyone injured in an accident should consult with a personal injury lawyer that is not only experienced in handling injury claims, but also experienced litigating cases in court.
"What makes our law firm different from others is that we have a lot of trial experience...we are not afraid to go to trial." - Joe Mahaney
Mahaney & Pappas, LLP have successfully litigated hundreds of cases. We are experienced trial lawyers and have tried numerous cases in all major courts throughout Massachusetts. If you have been injured in an accident feel free to contact us, or call (508) 879-3500, for free information on personal injury claims or to schedule a complimentary consultation.