Massachusetts Courts Protect the Rights of Passengers Injured in Hit-and-Run Accidents With a Broad Interpretation of Uninsured Motorist Insurance Policies

This week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court continued its trend of expanding insurance coverage for victims injured in hit-and-run car accidents when it granted a trial to an 18-year-old woman who suffered injuries in a car accident as a passenger in a taxi cab.

In this case, the plaintiff suffered neck injuries when the taxi cab in which she was riding rear-ended another car. Although the drivers spoke to each other to assess the damage to their vehicles, neither driver called the police or exchanged information. The plaintiff, who did not think she was hurt, took down no information. In addition a police report was never filed.

After unsuccessfully trying to track down the identity of the cab driver after the accident, the plaintiff’s attorney filed a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under her mother’s insurance policy to cover the cost of her injuries. The policy provided coverage for accidents involving “uninsured or hit-and-run autos.”

The trial court dismissed the case on summary judgment, ruling that the insurance company was not liable. However, the Massachusetts Appeals Court said, “Not so fast,” and explored the question of whether or not the taxi cab in which the plaintiff was riding could be considered a hit-and-run vehicle.

In short, the answer is yes: the taxi cab could be considered a hit-and-run vehicle. The courts have broadly interpreted the phrase “hit-and-run” in order to protect victims like this passenger. In previous cases, the Supreme Judicial Court has found that uninsured motorist claims were viable in other, similar scenarios:

  • A driver is forced off the road and into a guardrail by an oncoming vehicle, despite the fact the two cars never made contact with each other; and
  • A passenger in a car that is rear-ended realizes that he is injured, hours after the two uninjured drivers had gone their separate ways after concluding that there was no property damage or injuries.

In summary, the court held, “a passenger in an at-fault vehicle who is injured in an accident and who, unaware of her injuries… leaves the vehicle without obtaining identifying information about the vehicle is entitled to recover under the hit-and-run provisions of the policy.”

Importantly, however, the court noted that if a passenger realizes immediately after a car accident that he/she has been injured, the passenger is under an obligation to obtain identifying information from the driver(s), as long as his/her injuries are not so grave as to prevent an exchange of information.

The court also rejected the insurance company’s claim that it was prejudiced by late notice. The court said this was a factual determination to be made at trial.

The name of this case is Pilgrim Insurance Co. v. Molard. Other key cases in this area of insurance law include Surrey v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., 384 Mass. 171 (1981) and Commerce Ins. Co. v. Mendonca, 57 Mass.App.Ct. 522 (2003), which each address the bulleted scenarios above.

Uninsured motorist insurance is statutorily required in the state of Massachusetts in order to provide financial protection to those injured by other negligent drivers.

Important Consumer Tips 

  • If you are in a car accident and are wondering what to do, it is usually best to err on the side of caution, and obtain identifying information from the other drivers. For more tips about what to do if you are in an accident, visit the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles’ Driver’s Manual page.
  • Always notify your insurance company promptly if you are in an accident, even if you are a passenger is somebody else’s car.
  • Make sure you have enough car insurance to protect yourself if you are injured. You should have enough uninsured and underinsured coverage on your cars to protect yourself from injuries caused by other drivers. Please see our car accident insurance information for Massachusetts drivers.

If you were injured as a passenger in a car accident, or are the victim of a hit-and-run accident, call the Massachusetts injury attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck at 800-379-1244 for a free consultation.