Auto Accidents: Am I At Fault?

Car accidents are a stressful event regardless of whether or not you are at fault.  Are you hurt?  Is there damage to your car? Where is your registration?  These are just some of the many questions that instantaneously cross your mind after the initial “impact” of the crash.  Once you do a self check to make sure that all of your parts are in tact and that the other driver is relatively unscathed, the topic of who is at fault begins to surface.  According to Massachusetts Law, you are considered to be at-fault for an accident if your driving behavior at the time of the accident was more than 50% of the reason for the accident.  Some common questions are:

  • How will I find out if I am at fault in an accident?
  • Can I appeal an insurer’s determination that I am at fault in an accident?
  • How do I appeal?
  • Where and when will my hearing be scheduled?
  • What will the hearing entail?
  • When will I learn the outcome of my hearing?

Each of these is a valid question that you deserve the correct answer to.  If you have ever called the Massachusetts Division of Insurance or any Massachusetts governing office, you may have found that you should block off a significant amount of time in order to get your issues resolved.   Of course this will not be done in just one phone call but that is a topic for another blog. 

When you are found at fault for an accident, you are surcharged by the state of Massachusetts. The Merit Rating Board, a division of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, assesses surcharge points based on certain criteria. 2 points are assessed for a minor moving violation such as speeding, driving with an expired inspection sticker, failing to use your blinker, etc. A 3 point surcharge is given to those who are at fault in a minor accident. A “minor accident” is any accident with more than $500 but less than $2,000 of total damage. 4 point surcharges are assessed for any accident over $2,000 in damage. Lastly, a 5 point surcharge is assessed to any major violation such as driving to endanger, vehicular homicide, DWIs, etc.

There are “rules of the road” that the police and insurance companies use to help determine fault. For instance, if you rear end someone, you are at fault. It doesn’t matter if you slid on ice, or the other party slammed on their brakes in traffic, you are still at fault. If you are ever hit while taking a left hand turn, you are automatically at fault as the other driver has the right of way. So what happens if there are extenuating circumstances that cause the accident such as sliding on ice and rear ending someone?

There are ways to overturn a surcharge if you feel that other circumstances outside of your control contributed to the crash. Whenever a surcharge is assessed, the at-fault party will receive a Surcharge Notice in the mail that states the reason for the surcharge as well as the date of the accident in which the surcharge is stemming from. At the bottom of this notice are directions on how to appeal your surcharge. The long and short of it is that you must complete the back of the surcharge notice and submit the completed form with a check for $50 to the Division of Insurance. This must be received by the Division of Insurance within 30 days the date on the Surcharge Notice. You will be advised of your appeal date and location within the next 9-12 months. If you win the appeal then your surcharge will be removed from your driving record and all is well. If you lose then the surcharge remains and you are out your $50, but at least you tried!

If you find yourself in this very real situation, HERE is a document written by the Massachusetts Division of Insurance which answers all of the questions above and more.   You can also access additional resources on the their website http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/government/oca-agencies/doi-lp/