When you're driving on Massachusetts roads, you're sharing them with a lot of big trucks. Truck drivers are considered frontline workers, and 80% of American communities rely on them for their deliveries. Unfortunately, accidents involving these vehicles can be devastating.
According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), truck accidents have caused significant traffic fatalities in recent years. NHTSA recorded a 17% increase in the number of individuals killed in crashes involving large trucks in 2021 compared to 2020. Meanwhile, the total number of traffic fatalities in Massachusetts in 2021 was 417, up by 22% from the previous year's results. Twenty of the state's motor vehicle fatalities were identified under the “other/unknown vehicle occupants” category, which includes large trucks.
This article explains what you need to know about traffic safety, insurance requirements, and liability laws regarding truck accidents in Massachusetts. Whether you've been involved in an accident or just want to be prepared, this information can help you stay safe and protect your rights.
Massachusetts Truck Driver’s License Requirements
In Massachusetts, a commercial truck driver must carry a specialized commercial driver’s license (CDL). Truck drivers may apply for a CDL in Massachusetts beginning at the age of 18. However, a CDL holder may only begin driving a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce at age 21. Those under 21 will be given a K restriction to operate intrastate.
Massachusetts follows the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). FMCSA rules categorize large trucks based on their type, size, and weight and require drivers to obtain a specified CDL to operate those vehicles. Here is the list of CDL classes and their requirements:
Class A CDL: This license is required for drivers to operate any combination vehicle with a total weight of 26,001 lbs or more, like tractor-trailers, flatbed trucks, and livestock carriers.
Class B CDL: This license is required for drivers to operate a single vehicle that weighs 26,001 lbs or more. Sample vehicles include dump trucks and box trucks.
Class C CDL: This license is required for drivers to operate vehicles transporting 16 or more occupants or those carrying hazardous materials, like passenger vans and hazmat vehicles.
Massachusetts Speeding Laws
NHTSA notes that speeding-related fatalities increased by 7.9% in the USA from 2020 to 2021. Speeding was to blame for 114 (or 27%) of all traffic fatalities in Massachusetts. To reduce the number of speeding accidents across the state, Massachusetts has implemented laws when it comes to speed limits.
In Massachusetts, you can drive no faster than 55 mph on urban motorways, interstates, and divided and undivided roads. On residential streets, motorists should limit their speed to 30 mph at a maximum. Meanwhile, the maximum speed limit on rural freeways is 65 mph.
Excessive speeds, or exceeding the limits by 15 mph or more, may serve as grounds for truck drivers to lose their CDL if they have been arrested twice for this violation.
It is not enough for a witness to say that they have seen a truck going "too fast," as established in the 1924 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case of Whalen v. Mutrie. Thus, a crash reconstruction expert may be vital in truck accident cases. Their role is to determine who was speeding, by how much, and how this affected the severity of the victim's injuries.
Massachusetts' Unsafe or Careless Driving Laws
All drivers must follow local and state traffic laws, but there are additional guidelines for truck drivers. Commercial drivers must follow the rules, regulations, and ordinances of the area in which they are driving. In addition, FMCSA imposes stricter laws for commercial drivers, as per 49 CFR § 392.2. These are some of the unsafe or careless driving scenarios that could result in a truck accident:
If a commercial driver is caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .04% or more, they may face serious consequences. For a first offense, they could be disqualified from holding a CDL license for a minimum of one year. For a second offense, the consequences are even more severe, as they could face a lifetime disqualification. FMCSA also holds trucking companies liable for an accident if they allow their driver to operate with a detected presence of alcohol.
Improper or Erratic Traffic Lane Changes
As per MGL 89 § 4A, motorists must stay in a single lane and not move to another lane until they are sure that they can do so safely.
According to 49 CFR 392.3, commercial drivers are not allowed to operate if they feel sick, as this will impact their ability to drive safely. Commercial carriers may not force their truckers to drive if the latter is fatigued. The FMCSA sets strict hours of operation for commercial drivers.
As per MGL 90 § 13B, underage commercial drivers are prohibited from using their cell phones while driving. Legislation is pending at the Massachusetts State House to include all drivers in this law.
Massachusetts Truck Accident Liability Laws
Everyone in the commercial trucking industry has a greater duty of care to society. This includes not only the truck drivers but also the logistics firms, ancillary companies, motor carriers, and manufacturers. There are certain conditions under which an individual can file a personal injury lawsuit for a truck accident when they have exhausted their own insurance policies, such as:
If the total cost of reasonable medical bills for the injuries is more than $2,000 and
If the truck accident caused serious or permanent injuries that will affect the person's quality of life.
Potential Defendants in a Truck Accident Case
To file a lawsuit for a truck accident, one has to identify who was at fault. Potential guilty parties include the truck driver, trucking company, parts manufacturer, or shipper/distributor. In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was careless in order to recover money for their injuries.
Determining Fault in a Truck Accident in Massachusetts
To establish fault in a truck accident, the state law looks at four elements of negligence:
Duty of Care
Truck drivers are responsible for their behavior while behind the wheel and must be careful not to injure other road users. They are also to uphold higher standards of care during extreme weather, as per 49 CFR § 392.14.
Breach of Duty
A breach of duty happens when a truck driver, company, or anyone else with ties to trucking operations commits wrongdoing or fails to meet obligations. Sample scenarios include:
Driving under the influence
Trucking companies failing to maintain their fleet
Trucking companies failing to conduct background investigations on their drivers
Faulty mechanical parts
Overloading or improperly loading a truck's cargo
Proof of causation is needed to prove that the truck accident caused your injuries. This may come from medical reports or experts' testimonies.
If it can be shown that the truck accident caused your injuries and other losses, you should be able to get paid for them.
Massachusetts Statute of Limitations for Truck Accident Cases
In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit for truck accidents is three years, per MGL 260 § 2A. The clock to file a civil complaint in court begins on the date of the accident. If a victim files after three or more years, the case will be considered time-barred and dismissed by the judge.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts
Under MGL 260 § 7, the statute of limitations for victims who are of minor age will only begin once they turn 18 years old. They have until their 21st birthday to file a personal injury lawsuit. Under the same law, the statute of limitations is also paused for individuals who are mentally incapacitated and will only run when they are mentally restored.
According to MGL 260 § 9, the statute of limitations will be paused if the defendant or accused is absent from the state. For instance, if the defendant moves to another state for six months after the accident before returning to Massachusetts, those six months will not be counted as part of the limitations period.
In addition, under MGL 260 § 12, the statute of limitations will be paused if the defendant or the one responsible for the plaintiff's injuries fraudulently conceals liability or takes actions to keep the injured from realizing their right to file a lawsuit.
Massachusetts Is a No-Fault State for Insurance Claims
Massachusetts follows a no-fault insurance system. Under this practice, truck accident victims rely on their own insurance coverage for medical treatments and other out-of-pocket losses up to their coverage limits, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage includes the car owner, anyone with permission to drive the vehicle, any passenger riding in the car, and any pedestrian injured by the automobile. It covers medical bills from the accident, up to 75% of lost income if the accident resulted in an inability to work, and replacement services like taking care of household chores. The PIP coverage is limited to $8,000 and doesn't cover compensation for pain and suffering or other non-monetary damages resulting from the accident.
Massachusetts Is a Modified Comparative Negligence State for Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Massachusetts follows the modified comparative negligence rule. In this system, one can only recover compensation for losses if their fault for the accident is less than 51%. The total damages award is reduced by the percentage of responsibility. For example, if the court awards $50,000 worth of damages to a person and they are 15% responsible for the accident, then the award will be reduced by $7,500, making the total compensation $42,500.
If more than one party caused the injuries, each defendant has to pay according to their percentage of responsibility for the accident, as assessed by a judge. Under the rule of joint and several liability, if one defendant doesn't have enough money or insurance to pay for their share of the damage, the other defendant may have to pay for it all. This is to prevent injustice to the plaintiff. The other defendant who pays in full can file an action for contribution against the other defendant for reimbursement.
Additionally, if it is proven in court that one's fault is greater than 51%, then they lose their chance to recover damages.
In Massachusetts, if you can't prove that the other person was 100% to blame for the accident and injuries that came with it, you can still get the full amount of compensation you would otherwise get. The court also considers gross negligence, wherein a defendant’s behavior is so negligent that a plaintiff has a chance to get punitive damages from them.
Average Settlement for Massachusetts Trucking Accident Lawsuits
The average settlement from truck accidents varies. Due to the size and weight of trucks and their heightened risk of causing extreme damage, the amount of compensation following trucking accidents is usually higher than in accidents involving only cars.
Truck insurance policies usually have higher liability limits than passenger automobile insurance policies. For instance, a minimum of $750,000 in liability insurance coverage is required for vehicles weighing over 10,000 lbs. To transport hazardous materials, a commercial motor vehicle must have insurance coverage of at least $5,000,000. These insurance amounts give us an idea of how much a potential truck accident settlement could reach.
To determine the value of truck accident settlements, the court also looks at the severity of the injuries, which is considered an important factor in determining the final settlement’s value. This value increases in the event of the death of one or more parties.
There are different types of damages one can claim under Massachusetts law for truck accident cases:
This type of compensation is the total of a victim's medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and other expenses. The limit for property damages is not less than $5,000, as per MGL 90 § 34O.
Non-economic damages cover a victim's non-monetary losses, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of enjoyment of life. The limitation of damages for pain and suffering, as per MGL 231 § 60H, is not more than $500,000. While there is no way to put a number on the pain and suffering caused by an accident, Massachusetts uses some methods to assess monetary equivalence:
In the per diem method, the victim is paid a specific amount daily for their pain and suffering until they reach maximum medical improvement. The amount paid depends on how severe the injury is and how much pain and suffering the victim goes through.
In the multiplier method, the insurance company and the victim's lawyer agree on a number between 1.5 and 5 that shows how bad the injury was. Then, based on the severity of the accident, the agreed-upon multiplier is used to multiply the victim's total economic damages or financial losses. The result of this equation is the total compensation for non-economic damages.
These are assigned to punish the defendant for gross negligence or malicious intent. In Massachusetts, punitive damages only apply if the liable party committed a wrongful death action. Therefore, winning this type of claim is only possible if the truck accident results in a fatality. In addition, only a court of law has the right to assign punitive damages.
Massachusetts allows victims to demand compensation from the liable party if their losses exceed $2,000. This is only the threshold amount, and actual settlements can go higher.
Part of the award can also go to the attorney's fees. Lawyers who handle truck accident cases usually work on a contingency basis. This means they are only paid once their client wins the case and is compensated for their losses. A lawyer may receive around 20% to 40% of the accident settlement. They can also hold the monies in trust and use a portion to pay off debts associated with medical facilities, liens, and experts who were brought in to testify in the case.
Legal Resources for Massachusetts Trucking Accident Victims
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) funds civil legal aid groups across the state. The Commonwealth set up MLAC in 1983. Its goal is to provide the residents of Massachusetts with low incomes and important non-criminal legal problems with free access to legal information, advice, and representation. Its revenue resources come from the Commonwealth, government agencies, and private foundations.
Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder
The Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder helps low-income people obtain free legal information, advice, or representation through various programs and resources. These include law school clinics, bar association programs, court-based programs, and other non-profit organizations. It also provides a list of lawyer referral services for those seeking to hire a lawyer.
The Massachusetts Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service
The Massachusetts Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) helps individuals find the right lawyer for their legal needs. It has helped more than 500,000 people in the state since 1974. It is connected with respected attorneys located statewide and in good standing with the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers and the state’s bar association.
Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office
The Attorney General advocates for the different legal needs of Massachusetts citizens. The office’s Victim Compensation and Assistance Division provides eligible victims of violent crime with financial support for uninsured medical and dental care, lost income due to their inability to work, funeral and burial costs, and mental health counseling. The Attorney General's Criminal Bureau also handles public corruption, financial fraud, internet crimes, appellate issues, and more.
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