August 27, 2014

New Massachusetts Jury Selection Law: Fairness for Plaintiffs - Finally

Something happened recently on Beacon Hill, and while it didn’t receive a great deal of buzz or media fanfare, it will substantially level the playing field for plaintiffs in Massachusetts injury suits. Governor Deval Patrick earlier this month signed legislation that will give attorneys the ability to question potential jurors in Massachusetts Superior Court cases. Surprised that this wasn't always the case? You’d have every reason to be. How has it been handled in the past? Read on.

First, a definition: The process of questioning potential jurors in a case, before a jury is finally selected and empaneled, is called "Voir Dire." The process is intended to ‘weed out’ potential jurors who may be biased in one way or another. For 'eons' in Massachusetts, judges have retained the sole power to conduct voir dire questioning of potential jurors. While judges tended to pose questions that attorneys in the case provided to them, they were never obligated to ask any particular questions that an attorney wanted. Judges retained sole control over the process.

In trying to assess whether a potential juror was biased or otherwise unacceptable to serve, attorneys were limited to reviewing the answers provided in a one page questionnaire given to potential jurors. Stunningly, no verbal exchanges or discussions were allowed between attorneys and potential jurors! Exactly how was an attorney to make an accurate assessment of a potential juror, without engaging in a direct, brief discussion about that juror’s views of the type of case they might serve on? For the plaintiffs’ attorneys involved, the whole process of juror selection was based on speculation and guess work. Care to know just how archaic and outdated this jury selection system in Massachusetts really was? 39 other states – including all of the other New England states – allow attorney-conducted voir dire (make that ten states, now.)

Another stunning fact that this new law corrected: In the past, civil plaintiffs in Massachusetts were not allowed to state a specific damages figure they were requesting from a defendant. So how did juries – in the relatively rare event that a jury would find in favor of an injured plaintiff, that is – reach a particular damages figure? Sheer guesswork. Yes, you read that correctly. Justly, this new law corrects that ridiculous and awful rule. Also justly, it requires plaintiffs to prove their damages claim – as they should – but at least in the future, plaintiffs’ attorneys can argue specific damages to a jury.

In Massachusetts tort cases and Massachusetts injury litigation – in particular Massachusetts motor vehicle accident cases – it was the plaintiffs who suffered in this archaic process of not allowing attorneys to directly question potential jurors and not allowing specific damages figures to be requested in trials, not defendants. Why? Because most people who serve on juries have been tricked into believing that almost every Massachusetts personal injury plaintiff is a malingerer and a liar – someone who’s just looking to “cash in.” As a Boston injury attorney, I can guarantee you that this is not true. The injured clients I have represented in my career have suffered very serious injuries that can change someone’s life forever. These types of cases can vary widely, and just a few examples include:

Massachusetts Car Accident
• Massachusetts Slip &Fall accident
• Massachusetts Wrongful Death Case
• Massachusetts Construction Site Injuries
• Massachusetts Dog Bite Case
• Massachusetts Nursing Home Neglect & Abuse
• Massachusetts Liquor Liability

The two chief bar associations in Massachusetts, The Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys actively supported the bill, arguing correctly (and for the ‘ump-teenth’ time over many years,) that the change will produce both lower court costs and fairer juries. Superior Court judges, however, fought the bill aggressively, claiming that attorney-conducted voir dire would increase court costs by increasing the time it takes to select a jury and by requiring a larger pool of jurors. Apparently, many of these judges never stopped to consider what the primary purpose of the courts and the civil justice system is: Justice and fairness, not economies of scale. With the passage of this new law, plaintiffs’ attorneys will soon be able to actually question some jurors who they suspect might harbor biases against their clients. Imagine that!

This change – long overdue in Massachusetts – will produce fairer juries and much more just outcomes.

August 15, 2014

Another Fatal Massachusetts Motor Vehicle-Pedestrian Accident: 12 Year-Old Brockton Boy Killed.

Birthdays, especially for kids, are supposed to special days; days of happiness, a present or two, and carefree thoughts. They are cause for celebration, not mourning. Tragically, all that became reversed yesterday, when a 12 year-old Brockton boy by the name of Nazair Nunes-Escobar was killed when a tractor-trailer truck hit and killed him. Making matters worse, was the fact that the boy was killed while using the roller-blade skates that he had received just moments before, as a birthday present.

Young Nunes-Escobar was about to begin the seventh grade at the Oscar F. Raymond Elementary School in Brockton in September. “He was a very nice kid,’’ said Jocelyn Meek, a spokesperson for the Brockton public school system; “He had a very nice smile and a great sense of humor. They are very sad at the Raymond (school) today.’’ Neighbors and friends placed candles and flowers at the accident site, creating a makeshift memorial at 35 Brattle Street in Brockton. Several persons familiar with the boy described him as a cheerful presence at the Roosevelt Heights apartment complex where he lived. One neighbor said young Nunes-Escobar, so active at just 12 years old, would have one day become a great athlete.

The Brockton Police Department and Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz’s office are investigating the accident, but at this point in time no criminal charges have been filed. However, Cruz’s office said that the driver of the tractor trailer, identified by Massachusetts State Police as a 33-year-old Hanover man, has not presently been charged with any crime or cited for any violations. The tractor-trailer unit is reportedly registered to M.J. Cimildoro Trucking in Hanover. However, the company that owns the trailer that was being hauled, Spiegel South Shore Scrap Metal of Brockton, was cited by State Police Friday for excessive air loss rate from the truck’s brake system, and a cracked lift hinge assembly frame, according to a Massachusetts State Police spokesman. State Police also reportedly notified Spiegel and the driver of other violations, including three inoperable lamps on the trailer and an inoperative horn. It’s also unclear whether those citations were a factor in the accident.

These issues are important legally, because they will help determine whether or not a successful liability claim can be brought concerning this young boy’s death. Thinking about a lawsuit at this point in time may seem heartless to think about following this boy’s tragic death, but the reality is that if key evidence relating to the accident is not preserved, and if important legal steps are not taken promptly to maximize the chances of a successful liability claim against the owners/and or operators of the truck and the tractor-trailer, then the prospects of recovering perhaps substantial damages for this boy’s family may be compromised or lost entirely. Liability insurance, which the owners of the truck and the trailer must by law carry, exists to provide for compensation following tragedies such as this.

Most people might ask: What kind of damages could be recoverable in a case like this, where a 12 year-old child is killed in a Massachusetts truck-pedestrian accident? First, any case would need to be brought by the boy’s next of kin, or legal guardian. This person is known legally as the “Personal Representative” of the victim’s estate. How can a 12 year-old child leave an “estate”? The word “estate”, legally, does not mean what many people think it means: Lots of money and wealthy real estate. Loosely translated, it simply means “whatever the person owned” – and this could be as little as $10.00.

Damages recoverable in such a case could include pain and suffering that the victim suffered prior to death, loss of society and companionship for the boy’s parents and/or family, as well as other possible damages too lengthy to adequately discuss here. As a Boston Massachusetts motor vehicle-pedestrian accident attorney, I’ve seen many of these types of cases: They can be complex, and a very experienced Massachusetts truck accident law firm is needed in these cases, because the damages in them tend to be very high. Car-pedestrian accidents are dangerous enough, but when Massachusetts truck-pedestrian accidents come into our office, it’s not uncommon that fatalities will be involved. The reasons for this: Trucks cannot stop as fast as cars; they are more unstable, the driver’s field of vision is not as wide and blind spots are worse; and, of course, they weigh far, far more than a typical sedan or similar motor vehicle.

Parents and care givers of children should never allow their kids to “just go rollerblading” or playing in the streets, unsupervised. As you can see, the results can be horrific.

My sympathies and condolences to young Mr. Nunes-Escobar’s family.

July 25, 2014

Massachusetts Nursing Home Patient Negligence: When Will This Industry Learn How to Improve? Part One of Two

A couple of events occurred recently that bring about this post and another post to follow on the subject of Massachusetts nursing home abuse. The first occurred just a couple of days ago, when a Middlesex County jury returned a verdict against a nursing home in a shocking case of patient neglect and abuse. While the amount of damages awarded in the verdict was shocking, what was even more shocking were the underlying facts that prompted the verdict against the nursing home, and the damages that were awarded to the plaintiff’s family: $14 million. This is the largest nursing home-related verdict in Massachusetts in at least ten years, according to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which reports on such verdicts.

Powerfully illustrating the shocking level of patient neglect and abuse in this case, $12.5 million was for punitive damages – damages that a jury or judge awards to punish the defendant for the particular wrongdoing alleged. Of the $14 million awarded to the plaintiff’s family, $1.5 million was earmarked for compensatory damages – to compensate the victim for pain and suffering.

Who was the victim in this story? An old woman by the name of Genevieve Calandro. Of course, she was once a young woman, vibrant and in full. Perhaps beautiful; perhaps passionate; perhaps funny; perhaps witty. But not when she was a patient in the now-defunct nursing home: Radius Health Care Center, once located in Danvers. There, she was a frail, weak, vulnerable old woman. She needed the dedicated and gentle care of the “nursing home professionals” that had been paid to care for her. And what happened instead was, literally, a nightmare.

Aside from many other indignities she suffered, Mrs. Calandro was left alone in her wheelchair often, until one day she fell out of it. Rushed to a hospital after the fall, Emergency Ward doctors were shocked at what they found:

• A severe, festering pressure sore on her back
• Acute appendicitis
• A urinary tract infection so poisonous that it had invaded her blood stream, creating a raging fever
• Kidney failure
• Uncontrolled diabetes
• Severe dehydration.

Can you imagine suffering from just one of these untreated conditions? Think about that for a while. Notwithstanding treatment by hospital doctors, the sum of all these physical ravages to her body prevailed, and this 90-year-old woman died several weeks later, in August of 2008. Garry Calandro, Mrs. Calandro’s youngest son, told reporters Wednesday that no amount of money could compensate the family for the pain and suffering that his mother was subjected to by this nursing home, but he held out hope that the unusually high verdict against the nursing home would cause the nursing home industry to re-think about patient care, treatment and safety. “That is the only way to send a message, or to punish people, and somebody in that business certainly needs to look at it with a more serious manner than just as a big money-making business,” he said.

What an awful way to die. What an awful way to live one’s last days. I pray that never happens to me or someone I love. As a Boston nursing home neglect and abuse lawyer, I have made it one of my primary practice areas to represent abused and neglected nursing home patients. I fight incredibly hard for these clients, as does the admirable law firm that represented Genevieve Calandro. Nursing home residents are among the most, if not the most, vulnerable members of our society. They are our mothers, father, aunts, and uncles. They were our teachers; our elders; those who helped, in one way or another, to make this world a better place – and we owe it to them to make sure that the companies that operate nursing homes and promise to care for these patients, DO just that: Care for them – not just warehouse them. They need to hire competent, well-trained and capable caregivers – not just low-wage “health aides,” without about all the qualifications and talents of a Walmart worker.

As long as I’m practicing law as a Massachusetts Nursing home abuse attorney, I’m going to make sure that this industry gets the message: Treat these patients the RIGHT WAY, or face the consequences legally – and financially.

July 6, 2014

Massachusetts Lawnmower Accidents: Among The Meanest Cuts Of All

Just about everyone who lives in suburbia has a lawnmower. It is as commonplace as a driveway. But that’s where things can get a little deceptive. What most people don’t realize is that lawnmowers are extremely dangerous. This year, more than 70,000 people will be injured due to a lawnmower accident of some kind. Yes, that beautiful summer day when you decide to manicure your lawn, under a warm sun and gentle breeze – can turn into a nightmare of the worst kind. Proven by an unexpected trip to the Emergency Room.

Here are some unbelievable statistics:

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2010, more than 235,000 adults and 17,000 children in the U.S. were injured by lawn mowers. And here’s where gender counts: Boys usually have 80% of lawnmower injuries, which most often occur on their arms or their hands.

What is even worse: Riding lawn mowers can cause more injuries annually than push mowers. Why? That’s because they can tip and roll over, placing a child - or a pet -- at risk of being run over and severely injured. Each year, according to CPSC statistics, about 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, which typically back over them or tip over.

As a Westwood, Mass., lawn mower accident attorney, I’ve seen my share of lawnmower injuries. Also, many years ago, someone I know had a five-year-old nephew whose fingers were amputated by a lawn mower. This tragic incident is forever in my head every time that I cut my own grass. Yes, most people would acknowledge that lawnmowers are dangerous – but they typically have no idea of just how deadly they are. Typically, a mower’s steel cutting blade spins at more than 2,000 revolutions per minute. Worse, the blade tip may move at 200 mph.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, whose members care for lawnmower accident victims every day, reiterates these facts. The organization has estimated that the energy that is transferred by a typical lawn mower blade is almost the equivalent of being shot in the hand with a .357 magnum pistol. The results are horrific.

And to be more graphic: Here’s more bad news. An injury from lawn mower blade is typically not a “clean” cut. Usually, the wound is filled with grass, dirt, and other bacteria. The blade speed can also turn rocks, sticks, and other debris into deadly projectiles.

An engine mower is also dangerous; it can get so hot that it can ignite the gasoline, causing third-degree burns. More to worry about.

Mow The Lawn And Toe The Line

How can you protect yourself?

1). Check out the condition of your lawnmower before you use it. When something breaks, have it repaired - immediately.

2). Don’t ever use the mower without its safety equipment functioning properly. Most walk-behind mowers come with a special switch, called a “dead-man.” It shuts off the mower and applies a blade brake when the operator releases the handle. Don’t ever remove this switch or tie it down.

3). Also, most lawnmowers are equipped with a guard on the discharge chute. This plastic directs the mower discharge down and into the ground. If the mower hits a rock, the chute can keep it from shattering a window or striking someone. If the chute clogs while you are mowing, shut the mower off and use a stick to clear it – NOT your hand.

3). When you fill the gas tank, shut off the mower and let it cool before filling the tank.

4). Never mow the grass while barefoot or wearing sandals. Sneakers are probably best, as they protect your feet and also provide traction. Also wear close-fitting clothing that can’t be caught in the engine or in the gears.

5). Perform your due diligence. That’s “lawyer-speak,” but what it means is that you should check your lawn, before you mow the grass, to make sure there are no sticks or stones that might turn into projectiles by the lawnmower, and cause someone serious harm.

6). Keep children and pets as far away from the lawnmower as possible. Optimally, keep children and pets inside when you mow the lawn.

7). Whatever you do, don’t ever give a child a “fun ride” as a passenger on a lawnmower.

As I said above, every year, hundreds of children are run over, or have a limb or finger amputated when they have been “passengers” on a riding mower. Also, remember that it is prudent to make sure kids are at least 12 years old before they operate a push mower, and 16 years old before they use a riding mower.

If the nightmare of nightmare happens – and you or someone you love is injured in a Massachusetts lawnmower accident, promptly get in touch with our offices at (781) 320-0062 or (617) 285-3600. Our legal team can assist you in making the wisest legal decisions at this excruciatingly painful time.

April 18, 2014

Massachusetts Distracted Driving Accidents: This Kind of Stupidity is Global

I've blogged here repeatedly about the dangers of texting and driving. So today's post isn't so much about the inherent and obvious dangers of texting and driving - or phoning and driving - or web surfing and driving - or any form of distracted driving. For anyone who still doesn't get it, those dangers are OBVIOUS, and I don't need to restate them here.

No, today's post is about arrogance and shallowness and vapidness. And of how those far-too-prevalent personality characteristics pervade this world, even outside the United States. Click here to see a video story from the Huffington Post about this type of stupidity, from as far away as Australia. Note: If you can appreciate an impression of how a vapid young woman talks, you'll really like this.

Stunning, isn't it? But unfortunately, not exactly unwitnessed here in the good 'ol USA: As a Boston, Massachusetts distracted driving lawyer, I see the sad and tragic effects of distracted driving all the time. The injuries that result from Massachusetts distracted driving violations are very often extremely severe - occasionally resulting in death. Whether due to texting and driving, phoning and driving, or web surfing and driving, the effects of a ton of steel and glass hitting someone else remain the same.

The message, once more: Use your head, and get OFF the (not so smart) phone.

April 1, 2014

Massachusetts Backover Accidents May Lessen Due To New Safety Rules

Anyone who has has been involved in – or responsible for – a Massachusetts automotive backover accident knows all too well the horror that ensues from such a terrible event. First comes the shock of knowing that you have actually backed over an adult – or a child – with your car. Then comes the emotional pain of possibly being responsible for such a terrible accident – and one that seems so highly preventable. As a Boston backover accident attorney representing injured parties, I know all about the recriminations plus the guilt and grief that responsible parties experience, in the wake of backover car accidents.

But nothing can compare to the tremendous serious personal injuries -- and deaths -- that affect the victims of Massachusetts backover car accidents. The devastation that vehicle backover accidents experience can be overwhelming. You can only imagine the pain, suffering and deaths that occur when tons of steel hit a human being. Children are especially vulnerable as victims of car backover accidents, as they do not understand the danger of playing near a car. In addition, their small size makes it difficult for drivers to see them in the rear-view mirror. The elderly are also vulnerable. If you were to be hit by a car – even one going only five miles per hour or less -- you would suffer broken bones, possibly a broken neck or back – and in many cases, death.

The most recent statistics, from 2010, indicate that every year more than 210 people die, while 15,000 more people are injured, in car backover accidents. These figures come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But the NHTSA has just issued a ruling to try and reduce those statistics. The new NHTSA ruling requires all light vehicles – which includes cars, trucks, SUVs and vans -- to have “rear-view visibility systems,” which essentially means that these vehicles must have backup cameras. These cameras must afford all drivers a view directly behind the vehicle, measuring 10 feet by 20 feet. This rule would become final in the next two months or so, and would begin a two-year phase in period in 2016, becoming universally effective in 2018.

The NHTSA says that perhaps up to 69 lives will be saved annually, due to these new rear-view systems. Due to consumer demand, many automakers have already begun offering these new devices as standard or optional features. But there are still many vehicles on the road without such cameras.

Do you have a rear-view camera in your car yet? As a Dedham, Massachusetts backover accident lawyer, I cannot stress enough how important it is to still drive carefully and defensively, even if your vehicle is already so equipped. My advice? Always stay alert. And drive safely. And if you don’t have such a device in your car yet, when you are backing up your vehicle, always make sure to do so S-L-O-W-L-Y and with great caution. No matter the case, you can never be too careful when you put your car into reverse, with or without a backup camera installed in your car. You just might spare someone’s life.

March 22, 2014

Defective Products Recalls With GM & Toyota: Are You Safe?

Over the past few days, a lot of people have asked me about “What’s going on with all these automotive safety recalls?” There’s been a lot of media buzz about this subject, so let me give you a quick explainer.

Both GM and Toyota have been the subject of government and consumer organization investigations into deaths and injuries caused by defects in its motor vehicles. The defects in GM’s motor vehicles surround ignition switches, and with Toyota the defect involved driver’s side floor mats that caused a sudden acceleration in the vehicles. These types of product safety defects are legally known as defective product cases or product liability litigation. The deaths and injuries that were caused by these defects have occurred in several states. What makes this such a big deal, you might ask? Do manufacturing mistakes not happen, innocently? No large manufacturing organization is perfect, is it? Yes, innocent mistakes do happen, to everyone. And true, no corporation is perfect. But it’s not those points that are making the news with GM and Toyota.

No, it’s the same-old, same-old: Big business trying to cover up its mistakes, while unknowing consumers who buy the products that the company knows are defective, become injured or worse. You see, it’s become apparent, so far at least, that both GM and Toyota separately knew about the respective defects in certain of its cars, yet said and did nothing. Why? Why did Ford say nothing in the 1970’s when it knew that its now-famous Pinto model was a rolling time-bomb, with a defectively designed and shockingly unsafe gas tank? Why did the tobacco companies say nothing when they knew they were manufacturing a dangerously unsafe product with their addictive cigarettes? While many words can answer this question, one word strikes to the heart of it: Profit. These huge corporations quietly conduct their own cost-benefit analyses, and they determine that if they go public and release information about the defect, they will suffer more revenue losses in decreased sales, than they will if they’re sued here and there. So they say and do nothing.

Think I’m being perhaps a little too cynical here? You’d be wrong about that. As a Boston, Mass., defective products lawyer, I have seen so many cases of shockingly immoral corporate behavior when it comes to defective products cases and Massachusetts product liability cases, that it would stun most people. They say a leopard never changes its spots. When it comes to corporate misconduct, that expression could not be more apt.

Perhaps some minor, and very initial, credit should be given here to GM's new chief executive, Mary Barra. She has placed herself at the front of GM’s efforts to take responsibility for mishandling the defective ignition switches. A day after assuring her employees that GM is revising internal procedures to correct safety issues more rapidly, she appointed a director of global safety, Jeff Boyer, who is a longtime company engineer. Barra met with reporters this past week for the first time since last month’s recall, which is speedier than past automotive company presidents have done. But notably, she did not affirmatively say that GM would compensate the families of victims killed in crashes caused by its vehicles’ defective ignition switches. ‘‘I am very sorry for the loss of life that occurred, and we will take every step to make sure this never happens again,’’ she said. That’s a good start, but I suspect that this initial, out-front response may be a spin control effort to stem any threat to GM’s reputation and sales figures.

As for Toyota, this story is even worse: Following an extensive criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, Toyota has agreed - finally – to pay $1.2 billion (yes, that’s a “b,”) to settle that investigation, which surrounded deaths caused by the sudden acceleration of its vehicles. Don’t giver Toyota too much credit: It didn’t do so quickly, and it didn’t do so freely. Making the announcement earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder revealed that the penalty was the largest in its category levied against an automobile company. The four-year criminal investigation resulted in Toyota admitting to misleading consumers and government regulators by assuring them that it had safely corrected the acceleration problem arising from its defectively designed product - its floor mats. When it made these safety “assurances,” Toyota knew that it had not recalled other vehicle models vulnerable to the very same problem. Toyota also deliberately concealed from government regulators a separate acceleration danger related to a faulty pedal. To quote Attorney General Holder, ‘‘In other words, Toyota confronted a public safety emergency as it if were a simple public relations problem.”

As I said, a leopard never changes its spots. Especially the very large corporate leopard.

P.S.: Update, Mar. 25 2014: If anyone wants to know the devastating, life-changing impact that kind of corporate deception (legally speaking, "nondisclosure,") can have on a person or family, see this story on GM's actions in The New York Times. Makes the point, doesn't it?

March 15, 2014

Liability Insurers Still Fighting Boston Marathon Claims, Almost One Year Later

As if we here in Massachusetts haven’t spent the past 11 months being inundated with the media’s (especially The Boston Globe’s) nonstop dead-horse-beating of last year’s April 2013 Marathon bombings, the media here is now gearing up to re-hype the whole thing all over again. Talk about both sickening and pathetic …

When this happened last year, the first thing I thought of was the direct victims of this event. However, the second thing I thought of, being a Boston injury lawyer, was the liability insurance claims that would follow the event, from affected businesses and individuals. The claims I’m referring to aren't injury claims, but instead property/casualty claims. They’re filed by businesses and individuals that suffered both physical property damage to stores and facilities, as well as economic losses from the events of that day. Claims submitted to insurers for economic losses generally arise from loss of revenues due to the fact that the businesses could not operate for several days or weeks after the bombing events. That type of claim is made pursuant to a special type of coverage known as “Business Interruption Insurance.”

Within all this renewed news media “coverage,” a little factoid has made its way out: I know this will come as a shock to many readers of this blog, but guess what? Many business in the Boylston Street, Dartmouth Street and Newbury Street areas of the Back Bay, are still fighting with their insurance companies because their coverage claims have been denied. Yes, even almost one year later. According to the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, the state’s largest property /casualty insurers have paid a total of $1.9 million in bombing-related claims. First of all, as an attorney who works with liability insurance companies all the time, I can say that’s not a very high figure, given the number of businesses involved. Second, according to reports from The Boston Globe, insurers have rejected nearly half of all bombing-related claims connected to losses from business interruption. Third, insurers have also rejected payment for just fewer than 50% of claims for commercial property damage.

Of course, insurance industry officials insist there are valid reasons for all these rejected claims. Their answer, essentially: “It’s complicated.” Funny, I thought that was the name of a B-rated comedy film released in the past year…

As a Boston Massachusetts accident lawyer, I can assure you that this is par for the course when it comes to insurance companies. I see it every day in my Boston injury law firm. Whether it involves a Massachusetts car accident, a Massachusetts bus accident, a Massachusetts liquor liability claim, a Massachusetts Nursing home neglect case, a Massachusetts slip & fall claim, a Massachusetts negligent security claim, a social host liability claim or a Massachusetts wrongful death claim, it’s always the same story: If you don’t have a talented and experienced Massachusetts injury law firm at your side, insurance companies will take you to the proverbial cleaner. Their business model has always been the same – it’s remarkably simple, actually:

• Take in as many premium dollars as possible with slick and even humorous advertising (do Geico’s talking Gecko and Progressive’s Flo and ring any bells?)
• Invest premiums in the highest investment vehicles available, to generate maximum investment income.
• Deny as many claims as possible, using every legal and technical maneuver possible, to keep as much of money as possible.

Sad, but true. If you’ve been injured in a Massachusetts accident and wish to make any kind of a liability insurance claim, make sure you are represented by an experienced Massachusetts injury law firm.

March 7, 2014

Massachusetts Car Accidents More Likely for Drinkers 55 & Older

Rick James & Eddie Murphy used to have a hit song in the mid-1980’s called “Party All The Time.” Sometimes, I think it was written for the lifestyle I used to live in my 20’s. I remember backpacking through Europe one summer in my 20’s, and my friend and I would drink all night, sleep for 5 or 6 hours, get up and hike all day with a full backpack – no problem. But I’m not in my 20’s anymore, and I’ve known for a long time that I can’t drink and party the way I used to (in fact, those skills left a long time ago.)

The problem is, a lot of drivers who have “graduated,” shall we say, from those earlier days, don’t quite get that they can’t drink like they used to, and still drive responsibly. Too many people think that unless they feel a definite buzz, or feel “drunk,” they’re okay to drive. Not true, at all. In fact, it’s been shown that if you’re a driver who’s 55 years of age or older, a single glass of wine can render you a dangerous driver. No six packs needed.

A study published in the journal Psychopharmacology a couple of weeks ago, pointed out that for people aged 55 and older, the effects of even minor amounts of alcohol are drastically different from what they are for younger drinkers.

Sara Jo Nixon, Ph.D., who is a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Florida, along with her doctoral candidate Alfredo Sklar compared how drinking even legally non-intoxicating levels of alcohol, differently impacts the driving skills of two age groups: Drivers age 25 to 35 and drivers age 55 to 70. The study showed that even though neither age group drank enough alcohol to put them over the legal driving limit, (blood alcohol level of 0.08,) even one drink impacted the driving skills of the 55 and older group, but not the 25 to 35 age group. The study is important because while driving studies have been conducted of older adults, and while research has looked at how alcohol impacts younger drivers, no study yet had examined the combination of older drivers and alcohol.

All this points to the obvious: Just as someone in his or her fifties can’t run and jump like they did 20 years earlier, they can’t drink like they used to, either. Literally one drink can leave a driver aged 55 or older vulnerable to causing a serious Massachusetts car accident - and the results can be devastating. As a Boston, Massachusetts car accident lawyer, I’ve seen too many different types of motor vehicle accidents than I care to remember: Massachusetts car-bike accidents; Massachusetts rear-end collisions, Massachusetts backover accidents, Massachusetts pedestrian-car accidents, Massachusetts rollover accidents, Massachusetts truck-car accidents, and Massachusetts distracted driving/cellphone accidents.

In case you think that a lot of these are “fender-bender” accidents that don’t cause much damage, you’d be wrong. Try, instead, broken necks. Broken backs, Brain damage. Burn injuries. Soft tissue injuries that never fully “heal,” leaving the victim unable to ever fully function again. The list of consequences goes on and on.

My message to Massachusetts drivers in their mid-fifties and older: If you plan on having even one drink and driving, cancel those plans: Get a designated driver, walk, or take a cab. The risk of possibly terrible consequences, isn’t worth it.

February 13, 2014

Massachusetts Nursing Homes Given New Care Standards for Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Patients

The rapidly growing population of people afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, has, both fortunately and unfortunately, given rise to a new sub-industry of the broader nursing home industry: “Alzheimer’s Care Centers,” and “Alzheimer’s Specialty Facilities.” With names like these (and similar,) the public has been led to believe that these facilities possess some type of “specialty” designation or certification, isolated medical credentialing, or particular and highly –focused training. For years, families have placed their trust in these nursing homes and care centers, believing they had specialized skills and insights that a “regular” Massachusetts nursing home wouldn't have.

In most instances, those beliefs were induced by nothing more than slick marketing language, targeting an ever-growing medical market for this ever-growing patient population. The reality behind the marketing? Aside from the advertising, most of these facilities possessed little more substantive knowledge or nursing home patient care skills than the “average” nursing home. That’s the ‘unfortunate’ part of this growing industry: It capitalizes on an exploding market with claims of “unique” skills and “specialized patient care” for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients – when in reality most of them neither possess nor practice any more substantive care regimens or skill sets than “ordinary” nursing homes.

Thankfully, a great step forward was taken today, when the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (Mass. DPH) finalized new regulations for the care of dementia patients. The standards were originally proposed in August 2013 by the Massachusetts DPH. Those standards were finalized today by the Massachusetts Public Health Council, which is a state-appointed group of academic and public health experts that sets policy standards in areas of public health. The impetus for these new standards was a bill passed by the Massachusetts Legislature almost two years ago, requiring minimum training and qualification standards for specialized dementia care units. As part of the new regulations, facilities will be required to have at least one “therapeutic activities director” dedicated to the dementia unit, to ensure meaningful and appropriate activities for residents.

The new rules close a dangerous loophole that had allowed nursing homes to advertise “Dementia Care Units”

• Without providing any specific training for their employees,
• Without providing any specialized activities for residents,
• Without ensuring that safety measures were taken and monitored, such as high fences, to prevent Alzheimer’s patients and other dementia patients from wandering away from the facility grounds - a constant and serious risk for these patients.

Not unexpectedly, nursing home operators resisted many of the proposed changes, particularly the requirement for a six-foot fence around facilities with Alzheimer’s and dementia care units, to prevent these patients from wandering and getting lost. A compromise was reached when the Public Health Council changed the 6-foot requirement, to instead require a “fence or barrier to prevent injury and elopement.” Equally unsurprising, several nursing home operators also objected to a regulation that requires nursing homes with dementia care units to institute the specialized new employee training within 90 days after the rules go into effect. Thankfully, the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire and other nursing home patient advocates argued that the time frame was actually too long. The new rules also mandate ALL licensed nursing homes, and not just those with special dementia units, to provide dementia-specific training for all direct-care employees within 180 days.

Confirming the growing population of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, regulators this training must be mandated, due to the fact that approximately 60 percent of nursing home residents suffer from some form of dementia.

This is the proverbial “good start.” It is not – and must not be - the end of the battle to ensure that Massachusetts nursing home patients are cared for better than many now are. As a Dedham Massachusetts nursing home neglect lawyer, I have seen far, far too many cases of Massachusetts nursing home abuse and neglect – and the vast majority of these cases not surprisingly involve Alzheimer’s patients and dementia patients. Trust me, what goes on in many nursing homes would grey your hair and bring tears to your eyes. If more people knew of the misery and suffering that takes place in nursing homes – and realized that they, too, could end up in a nursing home one day – they’d protest all day long. Unfortunately, the thought of these issues too scary and too depressing for most people. They look the other way.

I thank God for the wonderful and admirable advocacy efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association, which is the leading watchdog and public policy advocate on this subject. If you can, please visit their site to offer whatever support you can for their critically important efforts.

Remember, getting old, infirm and mentally weak is something that we will all face.

February 7, 2014

Avoid Causing A Massachusetts Car Accident: Remove Snow From Your Car Roof!

We've all been there. You’re driving your car after a significant snowfall. Roads are plowed. Ice is melting. Traffic is flowing. You're humming to a tune on the radio. And then suddenly, out of the blue, a totally unexpected chunk of snow or “ice missile” smashes into your car windshield.

Where the heck did that come from? From the vehicle in front of yours - most likely the roof, or possibly the hood or trunk lid. That driver cleared all the snow off his car – except for the snow on the roof of his vehicle. What happens when a large amount of snow or ice is left on top of a vehicle that's moving at any speed faster than 10 MPH? That snow comes off the vehicle - either in a blinding cloud of snow, or a huge chunk of snow. Airborne, it will crash into someone else's windshield, obstructing that driver's view of the road and creating significant danger.

The result? You’re startled. You slam on the brakes, swerve into the other lane, lose control of your vehicle and crash into another vehicle, likely resulting in serious injuries. If your car is struck by snow or ice due to another driver’s failure to remove that snow from the roof, hood or trunk of his vehicle, and you are injured in a resulting motor vehicle accident, you're going to need an experienced Boston, Massachusetts car accident lawyer. You may be entitled to significant financial compensation for your injuries, based on the negligence of the other driver.

Many drivers do not realize that when they fail to properly remove snow from their car roofs, they are causing serious safety hazards on Massachusetts roads. If an accident occurs and you happen to be the driver who had not cleared the snow or ice from your vehicle, you can, and probably will, be cited for either what is known legally as "Driving with an Unsecured Load," which can cost you up top $200.00, or "Driving To Endanger," which is a more serious, criminal offense. Either way, it's going to cost you. A recent video clip from WBZ-TV4 on this subject can make this a little clearer; click here to see that clip.

As a Dedham, Massachusetts car accident lawyer, I hope that I can convince all Massachusetts drivers to take the extra five minutes, when clearing snow off their cars, to make sure they clear their car roofs, hoods and trunks. All drivers have enough to worry about on the road, without having the unnecessary anxiety of never knowing if a flying avalanche will come crashing down and cause another Massachusetts car accident.

Use your head. Enough said.

January 31, 2014

When Will Massachusetts Drivers Get It? Calling and Texting While Driving = Disaster

The lunacy of people using their smartphones while they drive, continues unabated. This problem has become far more than a “bad habit” - it’s almost as serious a problem as drunk driving. In fact, it’s very similar: A drunk or drugged driver is mentally, neurologically, and physically impaired. Someone using a smartphone is little different: Their mental acuity is reduced due to their concentrating on whatever phone conversation is taking place, or whatever other function or application they are using on the phone. Neurologically, their response and reaction times are reduced due to their focus being taken off the road, and physically, one hand is almost always either holding the phone or using it in some manner.

Yet, Massachusetts drivers go on with this dangerous, even deadly practice. The law that was passed here a few years ago has barely any enforcement teeth in it at all. Worse, the schizophrenic approach to the statute makes the same activity a crime for a juvenile, but not for an adult. I’ve blogged about this before. Recently, another state is taking some added measures to further penalize this conduct, and I think it makes sense. The Wisconsin state legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit drivers from using their smart phones while in a construction zone. That includes phoning, or texting. The ban would apply when workers are present in construction zones, the focus being protection of road crews. Drivers could still make 911 calls in those zones. Wisconsin law currently bans texting while driving, and bans new drivers who are on a probationary license from making calls on their phones.

As a Boston, Massachusetts cell phone accident lawyer, I think that such a measure should be passed here I Massachusetts. In fact, I think that all smartphone use while driving should be banned entirely, unless the phone call were made to 911, or the text involved an emergency. Unfortunately, I don’t think a near-complete ban on smartphone use in Massachusetts is likely, but it ought to be enacted. When will people “get it,” that driving a ton of steel and glass at speeds over 5 MPH, while talking on a smartphone, texting or searching the internet, is a prescription for disaster? Answer: When they are the ones who are seriously hurt.

How sad. As a Boston car accident lawyer, I see the damage and heartache from this practice, all too often. If people knew how dangerous and foolish this “habit” really is, they’d think twice.