What Happens if I am in a Car Accident With Someone With no Insurance in Massachusetts?
No one ever wants to be in a car accident, but you hope that if or when you are that the at-fault insurance company works with you to settle your claim. However, what happens when the insurance company is not willing to settle your car accident claim?
If the insurance company is not willing to settle your claim, your next option is to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. In Massachusetts the injured party, also known as the plaintiff, has three (3) years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. This is known as the statute of limitations. The lawsuit, also known as a complaint, will outline the parties involved, the facts from the plaintiff’s point of view, the legal basis for the lawsuit and the compensation the plaintiff is seeking. As the plaintiff, you have the burden of proof. This means that you must prove to a jury or judge that it is more probable than not that the defendant caused your injuries.
As the plaintiff you have the right to receive compensation, also known as damages, for the losses you suffered due to the negligence of the defendant. These types of damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for any losses that they have suffered. There are two categories of compensatory damages:
- Economic damages – These types of damages have a concrete dollar value. Some examples include lost wages, medical bills, mechanic bills, and damages for property loss.
- Non-economic damages – These types of damages do not have an actual dollar amount. Some examples of non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, emotional distress, and disfigurement.
Once the lawsuit has been filed, the defendant must be notified that they have been sued. This is known as being served. The defendant is then required to respond. Their response to the complaint is called the answer. The answer contains the defendant’s version of the events leading up to the lawsuit. The answer will admit or deny each line of the complaint. The defendant may also file a counterclaim (stating why they believe that the plaintiff is at fault), an affirmative defense (a legal reason as to why they are not responsible) or a motion to dismiss (which asks the court to dismiss the lawsuit against them). This first part of the process can often take months.
The next part of the trial process is called the discovery phase. Discovery is an important part of the process that allows the parties to learn about one another, as well as each other’s perspectives about how the accident happened. Discovery can take a number of different forms. One form of discovery is called written discovery. Written discovery allows one party to send the other party written questions, or to request documents they believe are important to the case. Another large part of discovery is deposition testimony. Depositions are used to gather evidence prior to trial. A deposition is where a witness is placed under oath and asked questions by the attorney requesting the deposition. As a plaintiff, it is almost certain that the opposing party will want to take your deposition. This is in order to not only hear your side of the facts, but to determine what type of witness you would be at trial. It is important to work with your attorney to prepare for your deposition.
During the discovery phase your attorney will work to identify witnesses to help prove your case. Obtaining the identity of witnesses is essential, as it will help determine who can help your case and who may hurt it. There are two types of witnesses; lay witnesses and expert witnesses. Lay witnesses may only testify regarding their firsthand knowledge; what they heard, saw, said or did. The most common examples of lay witnesses include eye witnesses, police officers and first responders who responded to the accident, and friends or family who can testify how the accident has impacted the plaintiff. In contrast, expert witnesses are often deemed qualified as such due to their skill, experience, training and education in a specific field and do not have to have firsthand knowledge to testify. Examples of expert witnesses include accident reconstruction experts, medical experts, and wage-earning capacity experts.
Often attorneys will try to negotiate during the discovery phase to see if the case can be settled without having to go to trial. If the attorneys are able to reach a settlement, the case will end and not proceed to trial. However, if the attorneys are unable to settle, the next step is trial. The length of trial will vary depending on the complexity of your case. It will then ultimately be up to the jury and/or judge to decide which facts are most believable and whether the defendant should be held responsible.