January 19, 2015

Massachusetts Texting & Driving Accidents: How To Stop Them? Part Two of Two

In my previous post on this subject, I discussed how Scott Tibbitts, a chemical and space engineer who previously designed motors and technology for NASA, formed a company named Katasi to find a way to tackle the problem of preventing people from texting while driving. Mr. Tibbitts devoted his time and energies to this task, following the death of a colleague who was killed by a driver who was texting while driving. This is a dangerous behavioral problem that has vexed public safety professionals for several years now.

Tibbitts and his team did it! Their answer is Groove: A small device that plugs into a port that’s located just under any steering wheel (these ports are located in most car models made after 1996): Once plugged in, the device connects the car to the Internet. Each driver of the vehicle must first be registered with Groove. Once that drive plugs his device into the port under the steering wheel, within seconds of the car moving, Groove determined who that particular driver is and immediately notifies that person's smart phone carrier (AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, etc.,) allowing the carrier to block all incoming distractions (such as texts) before they reach the phone. No worries about the texts being lost: After the ignition is turned off, Groove again notifies the carrier, and all messages and texts that were blocked while the car was on and moving, come rolling right in, so no messages are missed.

Obviously, the key link in making Groove work effectively and seamlessly is the cell phone carriers: Katasi is now working actively with two major U.S. carriers to deploy Groove in 2015, Tibbitts knows this is not enough. "Our goal is to have every carrier on board with Groove, providing the capability to limit distractions before they get to the phone when a subscriber is driving" he said.

Dave Sueper’s widow, Diane Misgen, told Couric that she was both honored and hopeful that Groove will make a huge difference, and prevent needless tragedies of the kind that took her husband from her. Speaking to Couric, she said "It was so reassuring to me that this was going to save so many lives. And I think for my kids, it's also heartwarming to know that someone else who had nothing to do with our family took on that challenge in honor of their dad."

As a Boston Massachusetts distracted driving lawyer, my message in today’s post is to ALL of the wireless cell phone carriers in the United States: Get on board and be part of this incredible SOLUTION to this deathly epidemic. Stop dragging your feet in the name of expenses and corporate profits. Get off your butts and work with Katasi to make this a universal reality across this country, now.

To know more about Groove and find out whether it is available to you, visit katasi.com.

January 11, 2015

Massachusetts Texting & Driving Accidents: An Electronic Solution May Be On The Way – Part One of Two

Readers of this blog know that I’ve posted many times on the subject of Massachusetts texting and driving accidents – pleading with drivers to put down that smart phone when behind the wheel. Despite the numerous deaths and injuries that have resulted, human behavior just doesn’t seem to change: People think they can do this, without causing any problems. Thinking that is like thinking you can walk across the Massachusetts Turnpike, blindfolded, and not get killed. Yet, this behavior goes on.

Well, if human behavior can’t seem to change on its own, perhaps science and technology can help it change. The impetus for this technological change was caused by a tragedy: On May 8, 2008, a man Dave Sueper, a husband and father of two, was driving in his car, on his way to a business meeting with a colleague. Driving through an intersection, Mr. Sueper was “T-boned” when by a distracted teenage driver who was texting as he ran a red light. The person Mr. Sueper was on his way to meet was a man by the name of Scott Tibbitts, a chemical and space engineer who previously designed motors and technology for NASA. Mr. Tibbitts was deeply affected by the tragedy. As Dave Sueper was, Tibbitts was the father of two children at the time. As an electronics engineer, he obsessed with finding a way to prevent more motor accidents and deaths due to texting while driving (distracted driving.)

Tibbitts had recently sold his space engineering company, Starsys Research Corp., and the time was right for a new challenge, professionally. He devoted himself to finding a way to stop the growing scourge of texting while driving. Just how serious is this epidemic? The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that cellphones (smartphones) are implicated in 1.6 million car crashes each year; these motor vehicle crashes cause over half a million injuries and claim 6,000 lives each year. Think drunk driving is the worst or only insane thing you can do while behind the wheel? Texting while driving has replaced drinking while driving as the leading cause of teenage vehicular deaths; Teen distracted driving is the cause of 20 percent of all teen highway deaths in the U.S. I’ve been a Brookline, Massachusetts car accident lawyer for 20 years, and I can assure you: The emergence of cell phones, smart phones and texting has caused and explosion of these injuries and deaths. It is quite horrific.

Tibbitts knew drivers were obviously not changing their habits, and he became consumed with finding a technological answer to how this behavior could be prevented. In an interview with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, he commented, "There has got to be something that will fix this technically. (BTW: Watch that video link with Katie Couric to see a fascinating social experiment with Japanese movie goers, about texting while driving. I think you'll find it very interesting.) Tibbitts continued, "This feeling — it just wouldn't let [me] go." The technological challenge wasn’t going to be easy: Several previous attempts to stop this behavior had been tried, typically using apps on smart phones that would tap into GPS signals to pick up on when a phone is traveling more than 10 MPH, and then disable distracting phone features such as texting. But the problem was that those apps can easily be overridden by the driver. Further, those apps don't make any distinction between whether the phone’s user was traveling in his own car, someone else’s car in which he is merely a passenger, or even a public bus that’s traveling faster than 10 MPH. This was the challenge that Tibbitts and his team at his new company, Katasi, had to solve. Click on that link to learn more about this fascinating company, and what it's doing to create a safer world.

I’ll talk about just how Tibbitts and his company, Katasi, went about tackling those problems.

December 29, 2014

AVOID MASSACHUSETTS SOCIAL HOST LIABILITY BY HAVING GUESTS SIGN WAIVERS?

It’s the Holiday Season, and that means house parties, correct? My parents, neighbors and relatives had them each year, and they were always fun, lighthearted events. The only thing most people needed to be really concerned about was whether your oddball relatives would cooperate, or whether the food would be good. However, things are different nowadays, aren’t they? (Note: I didn’t say “better,” I said “different.”)

In the newest social development to give rise to the ongoing debate of whether people these days think & act foolishly, or prudently, consider Exhibit “A” on that topic: It seems that an idea is circulating around the internet, suggesting that Massachusetts residents who plan on throwing a holiday party in their home, might want to present a Liability Waiver to their guests who arrive at the front door. Yes, you read that correctly: A Liability Waiver, otherwise known as a Release of Liability, supposedly waiving any liability claims against the homeowners, for any injuries the guest might suffer at or after the gathering to which the guest has been invited. Presumably, this idea was cooked up to supposedly protect the homeowner if the guest was injured because he or she drank too much alcohol at the party, and somehow became injured at or immediately after the party. This idea arose over the internet, presumably because the non-lawyer people who dreamed this idea up, think that it will actually work.

Not exactly. The legal reasons for this are twofold: 1) First, such a waiver would only act to possibly – though not certainly - prevent a liability claim by the guest, and the guest only, for injuries he or she suffered as a result of becoming intoxicated at the party. Such a Release would not act to automatically prevent a successful claim against the homeowner under Massachusetts social host law. It might act to reduce the homeowner’s proportion of negligence within the case if an issue of comparative negligence were raised, but how much protection it would provide would be highly variable case-to-case, and would be highly dependent on the surrounding facts and circumstances particular to each case. 2) No such Release or Waiver would ever act to bar liability claims of third parties who might be injured as the result of a drunken party guest. For example, if a guest became intoxicated at a house party, left the house, drove away in his car and struck and injured or killed an innocent third party, that third party would still be able to sue the homeowners under the Massachusetts social host law.

As a Boston, Massachusetts Social Host Liability Attorney, I've seen a wide variety of cases come before me. For a case like this to succeed, a number of factors need to come together, and it takes a very experienced Massachusetts Alcohol Liability Lawyer to successfully litigate and win these cases. So, for those who are throwing holiday parties in their home, try a different set of tactics: Use common sense: Limit the number of guests to a reasonable amount that you can comfortably observe. Monitor your guests’ alcohol consumption. Hide the car keys of anyone appearing at all intoxicated.

P.S.: If you have a dog and Fido doesn't like strangers, put him or her in the basement with a chew toy and water for the night. Because you won’t get out of hot water if Fido bites a guest, either.

December 24, 2014

Man Killed in Boston Pedestrian-Motor Vehicle Accident on Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve, 2014. A time when families and friends gather to celebrate the blessings they have, and to give and receive gifts. A time of warmth, hope, and ideally happiness.

Yet tragedy knows no holiday. And tragically, earlier today in East Boston, a man was killed in a pedestrian-motor vehicle accident. You can read an initial news report of the tragedy, filed by CBS4 Boston (WBZ-TV,) by clicking here.

How awfully sad. While the victim's identity hasn't yet been released, all that you need to know is that he was somebody's someone: Somebody's son, somebody's brother, somebody's husband, somebody's friend. Killed in a Boston pedestrian-car accident, on Christmas Eve. As a Massachusetts pedestrian-motor vehicle accident attorney, I see far too many of these types of accidents. They are almost always very serious, given the obvious reality that when a pedestrian is struck by a 2,000 lb. vehicle, terrible injuries are likely to result. My plea, yet once again, to anyone with a driver's license: Watch what you are doing when you're driving. Do NOT text and drive - do NOT engage in distracting conversation with anyone else in the car, kids or adults. Do NOT read your email. PUT DOWN that cell phone.

Or the next story about someone being killed or seriously injured in a Massachusetts pedestrian-car accident, may mention your name as the deceased. Worse still? You may be the one who lives - and you will carry the guilt of killing someone accidentally, for the rest of your life.

December 15, 2014

Massachusetts Regulators Propose Crack Down on Assisted Living Facilities

In Massachusetts right now, there’s a bit of a war going on between the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As is so often the case, while the consumer is the party who is supposedly is designed to benefit from these regulatory skirmishes, that isn’t always what results.

Have you ever noticed these 'Assisted Living Facilities' when driving around Massachusetts (or elsewhere,) and wondered, “What are these places?” Well, in theory, they were developed about 15-20 or so years ago as a kind of an alternative to a nursing home, for primarily elderly residents who need some kind of care outside their families’ homes, but weren't so seriously disabled that they needed a nursing home or skilled nursing facility with round-the-clock care. These facilities – or real estate developments as many would call them – supposedly offered primarily elderly residents (or otherwise infirmed persons) an alternative environment to a nursing home. In theory, many such residents would need limited assistance – perhaps to bathe or similar functions – and many would hire their own part-time nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN,) or nurses’ aide to come in for a few hours every day to help with these daily living functions. In practice, many assisted living facilities operate more like apartment complexes that have almost exclusively elderly residents, than anything else. Advocates for the elderly have criticized this practice, saying it’s an essentially low-ball way to make money off elderly patients – without being regulated as nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities.

This ‘sub-nursing home’ option became quite popular with the public, for a variety of reasons: 1) The primary one is that the cost for an assisted living facility is usually far less than that for a nursing home of skilled nursing facility. 2) Next, in theory at least, these facilities offered the resident a greater degree of independence and autonomy; but 3) - and as a Massachusetts nursing home neglect attorney, in my opinion this next one is very important – they offer the adult children of the elderly parents that they place in these facilities, a ‘way out’ of the guilt that usually results when placing an aging parent in a traditional nursing home. So, for a variety of reasons, assisted living facilities have grown rapidly, to the point now where approximately 14,000 in Massachusetts live in these facilities across the state. These facilities are regulated by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs – but trust me, as a Dedham Massachusetts nursing home lawyer – the oversight to date hasn’t exactly been strict or aggressive. However, it looks like that’s about to change, and that’s what the current battle between the state, the nursing home industry and the assisted living facilities is all about.

The state, through the state Office of Elder Affairs, believes that assisted living facilities are too eager, in their quest for revenue and profits, to accept residents that need a sufficient level of care that they really ought to be in nursing homes or in a skilled nursing facility. To this end, the state has drafted new regulations that would prohibit assisted living facilities accepting residents who are so frail or disabled that they need more than 90 consecutive days of skilled nursing care. The trade association which represents the interests of the assisted living facility industry, the Massachusetts Assisted Living Facilities Association, is trying to push back these proposed changes, claiming that regulations that force frail or infirm elderly residents to leave these facilities would force many into nursing homes against the wishes of the residents and/or their families. The industry is also concerned about a provision in the new regulations that the state has drafted, which would allow the state to make these changes without public hearings that allow interested parties to speak in opposition to them.

So, which party here – the state, the nursing home industry or the assisted living facility industry, has a greater claim to the truth on this issue? And most importantly, what is the best policy for the elderly and frail residents of these facilities? As a Brookline, Massachusetts nursing home neglect lawyer, I’ve seen far too many cases of nursing home neglect and abuse. If that is ultimately what is going on with assisted living facilities accepting residents who end up at risk because they need more care than such a place can provide, then we’re going to essentially create a whole new category of elders who are being neglected or abused.

I certainly don’t want to limit the housing options of elders who don’t want to go to a nursing home. Believe me – having seen the inside of too many nursing homes in my lifetime, I’m in favor of any reasonable option to keep an elder either in their home or in an assisted living facility. But not if placing the elder in such a facility will end up causing even more neglect to the elder. A very careful balancing act is needed here. We'll see what develops as these regulations move forward.

December 7, 2014

Dedham Massachusetts Pedestrian-Car Accident Kills Woman, 54

I’ve written many times on this blog about Massachusetts pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents, but sometimes events like this just hit closer to home, for whatever reason, geographic or otherwise.

Such is the case for this post, as a pedestrian was killed this past Friday night in Dedham, next door to my town of Westwood, under circumstances that are even worse than a pedestrian-motor vehicle accident: A hit-and-run. At approximately 10:45 p.m. Friday, December 5, Dedham police officers responded to a car accident at a location on Washington Street at Lower East Street. There they found a 54-year-old woman, identified later as Ms. Jeannie Heppler, lying critically injured on the sidewalk. She had been hit by a motor vehicle – and the driver fled the scene of the accident. He or she left this woman on the side of the street, critically injured. Ms. Heppler was transported to nearby Norwood Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Police believe that Ms. Heppler was crossing Washington Street when she was hit in the southbound travel lane by a passing vehicle. Investigators are searching for a 2000-2006 Ford Escape that has passenger side headlight damage as well as damage to the passenger side view mirror. Anyone with information about this event is asked to call the Dedham Police Department at (781) 751-9300.

As a Boston pedestrian-car accident attorney, I’ve seen many Massachusetts pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents. They can happen anywhere, in a crowded city environment or a rural country road, and when they happen, the physical injuries are very often extremely serious. That's why an experienced Massachusetts pedestrian-car accident law firm is needed by anyone who has been injured in this type of accident. But for a driver to leave an injured person lying on the side of the road after he or she has accidentally hit that person, is beyond belief. How someone like that can believe that he or she would be “better off” by running and avoiding responsibility, by leaving an innocent person to quite possibly die on the side of the road like an animal, is stunning to me.

As a Boston injury lawyer, I have seen this kind of conduct increase with alarming frequency – and it begs the question of why and how such acts of inhumanity are indeed on the rise. Both professionally and personally, I attribute it to the de-sensitization of our society, brought on by the de-personalization that results from the digital age: The dramatic and vast reduction in human-to-human contact in everyday life (automated, voice-command systems prevail everywhere, with real people removed from daily interaction.) Add to this toxic mix the rise of social media, which despite its initial promise of ‘connecting’ us all, has in fact disconnected us from each other. Taken together, this produces the toxic result of de-sensitizing, de-personalizing, and in sum “numbing-out” much of the population when it comes to empathy for others. The result? An ever-coarser society that lacks compassion and dignity.

In the event that the driver of this vehicle might be monitoring online reports of this event: Beyond a name, the person you killed had a face. And here it is.

November 27, 2014

Massachusetts Car Accidents: Be Thankful If You Aren't In One On Thanksgiving Weekend.

I’m sorry that I haven’t posted to this blog in a while; the combination of too much work, and a little too much travel.

So, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday? You must have a list, and for many, the short list probably includes being thankful that some kind of family argument didn’t erupt with a relative during Thanksgiving dinner. That, or you’re grateful you probably don’t have to work on Friday.

If you get to where you’re going and back without being in a Massachusetts car accident this weekend, you should definitely add that one to the list. Why? Because Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel holiday of the year, with an unbelievably high number of vehicles on the road all over the country. In Massachusetts, all the major highways will be jam-packed over the weekend – especially Thursday and Sunday. Those highways include the Mass. Pike, Route 128, Routes 3 & 92, and Interstate 95. Thank God I’ll be nowhere near them!

But what do you do if you’re one of the unlucky ones, and are injured in a car accident? As a veteran Boston Massachusetts car accident lawyer, I’ve put together a list of what you should do if this happens to you: Here’s a brief list:

1) Pull Over, Immediately. Assuming your vehicle is still drivable, under Massachusetts law, you must stop at once if your vehicle hits another motor vehicle, including a motorcycle or bicycle, or a pedestrian. Note: The same law applies if you hit an animal, or if your vehicle hits another person’s property. Don’t even think of driving away, or you’ll expose yourself to a Massachusetts criminal charge of leaving the scene of an accident.

2) Dial "911." Call the police at once on your cell phone. If you don’t, your insurance company might deny coverage, and in the worst case you could be prosecuted if you do not report a collision.

3) Accept Medical Treatment. Even if you don't feel immediately injured - be sure to accept any medical evaluation that EMT’s offer. Far too often, car accident victims discover a few days later, that they in fact suffered serious injuries. These are called “soft tissue injuries, because no fractures or lacerations may be immediately involved. These injuries typically worsen over time.

4) Cooperate With Law Enforcement. As a Quincy, Massachusetts car accident law firm, we strongly recommend that you refrain from admitting any guilt in connection with your collision. Do not talk to the other drivers or passengers involved in the crash, except to exchange contact information.

5) Take Notes. If you can, jot down notes about the accident as soon as possible. By doing so, you will be prepared with as much evidence and documentation as possible, without later forgetting this critical information when it will be needed by your attorney.

6) Take Photos With Your Camera Or Smartphone. If you can't take photos immediately, return to the scene as soon as possible to do so, or ask a friend to do so. Photograph any obstacles, obstructions, adverse road conditions, signs, trees, vegetation, and any other relevant information.

7) Call A Family Member or Friend. You should call someone as soon as possible to let them know what has happened to you, and to inform them of your whereabouts.

8) Contact Your Insurance Carrier and Your Attorney. As soon as you can, call your insurance carrier - but only to report that the accident occurred. Do not answer any other questions about the accident other than the date, time, and location of the accident. Do not speak with anyone else involved in the accident or their insurance company, without first obtaining legal advice from an experienced Massachusetts car accident law firm.

And remember - don't drive until the tryptophan wears off. Doing otherwise is being a real turkey.

October 16, 2014

Massachusetts Distracted Driving Accidents: The Scary Truth

You think Spooky World is going to scare you this Halloween?

As a Boston Massachusetts distracted driving accident lawyer, I can tell you three frightening stories of what happens when you practice distracted driving on the road. Texting and driving are two words that should never, ever be spoken together – and certainly never practiced in tandem. It’s a recipe for disaster. The Massachusetts Anti-Texting Law, otherwise known as the "Safe Driving Act," also prohibits drivers from texting, emailing, and reading from handheld devices such as Smart phones, and devices such as iPads, when on the road. That should be enough warning for us all. But for some people, it's not. For some shock value, consider these three horrific stories of how some people think they can "drive safely."

My wife Debbi Kickham has told me three absolutely true horror stories about people she has met in her lifetime, who told her about what they do when they drive. Each story is so unbelievable, that Debbi never forgot them. And when I heard them, my jaw dropped.

An old friend of Debbi's, who was in medical school, once drove from Massachusetts to California. Care to know what this obviously bright person did as he drove? He propped a medical textbook in his lap, and glanced down from time to time to read, to break up the monotony of driving from one coast to another. This dangerous behavior goes beyond the pale. He probably ended up in a Hospital Emergency Ward - horizontally, and long before he thought he would.

Another one of Debbi’s colleagues, who owned a bridal shop on the side, told her that when she drove home after working 9-5 every day, she did something that made her feel like the ultimate multi-tasker during her commute. She sewed hems on bridal headpieces as she was driving. We are not kidding, folks. She told this to Debbi with pride, and with a laugh. It's unbelievable.

And here’s the kicker: A story so terrifying it will curl your hair. One of Debbi’s friends recently told her that her Mom has an unusual beauty routine: She curls her hair with her curling iron, plugged into the cigarette lighter, as she drives. (No, not as a passenger.) Now that you've picked yourself up off the floor after hearing that, can you believe how shocking it is? And you thought that women putting on makeup as they sat in the driver’s seat was bad. While these stories might seem like they take the cake, there are even worse stories of distracted driving out there.

We don't know if those terrible driving stories ever led to a Massachusetts car accident -- and we hope that they never did. But practicing such distracted driving is like playing with fire.

I am urging everyone who reads this blog post to stop, pay attention to the road, and never, ever, do anything else while driving except keep your eyes glued to the road. Driving and being out on the road is already dangerous enough – Reminder: You're driving over one ton of steel and glass - which can kill at just 5 MPH, never mind typical road speeds. Use your head: Don’t do anything that could ultimately kill you – or any number of innocent victims.

October 10, 2014

Fall In Massachusetts: Nice, Just Don't Slip and Fall on Wet Leaves

So many people love the Fall season. I'm just not one of them. For many people, it’s a time for apple-picking, football games, Halloween and clean, crisp air. For me, it's a time for longing the warm summer air and beach days that have left us. It’s also the season for leaf-peeping, which here in Massachusetts, people do in droves.

But did you know that autumn leaves, while beautiful, can pose a threat and can precipitate a Massachusetts slip and fall injury? “Fall” is the operative word here. Think about it: Dew falls during the nights and mornings, and it rests on leaves that have fallen everywhere. Aside from dew, rain also can pour down on leaves. The result? Moist leaves that are as slippery as a banana peel – or a sheet of ice, in winter. People certainly know how dangerous snow and ice are, but are probably not as familiar with how dangerous wet leaves can be. A Massachusetts slip and fall injury caused by simply wet leaves can be very serious.

Wet leaves can pose a problem at private homes -- especially on walking surfaces like driveways, stairs and porches. At public places and at businesses, wet leaves that are not raked away or that simply pile up can be very dangerous, at entrances and exits, and on stairwells. One false move, and you’re on the ground with a broken wrist, a twisted ankle, or far worse - and when and where you least expected it. If that happens, you will need a Boston slip and fall attorney.

When slip and fall injuries are caused by someone else’s negligence – such as by someone not raking their leaves, or letting wet leaves pile up by an entrance, for example -- you as the victim deserve to be compensated for your physical pain and suffering, as well as economic harm the injury has caused you. You could very possibly find yourself with large hospital bills, and may need to take time off from work so that your injuries can heal. As a Boston personal injury attorney, I can assure you that you do not have to become victimized by these events, without legal recourse. Under Massachusetts law, you have legal rights when you are injured due to someone else’s negligence. A Massachusetts slip and fall injury that is caused by wet leaves falls under the heading of "premises liability," and an experienced Massachusetts injury attorney can help you obtain the financial damages you deserve.

September 2, 2014

Dangerous Boston, Massachusetts Apartment Buildings: Students & Parents Beware

Recently here in the Boston area, the media has paid a lot of attention recently to the subject of dangerous off-campus housing for college students – and justifiably so.

Boston is the College Capital of the Nation, and there are more undergraduate and graduate students here than in almost any other part of the country. Against this massive student population, there are only so many campus dorm units - i.e., on-campus housing facilities. Universities here knowingly accept more students than they have the capacity to house on campus. Why? Tuition revenue. The student overflow ends up in apartment buildings in and around the greater Boston area – and these numbers have increased over 30% since just 2006. What’s the problem with this? A huge percentage of those apartment buildings and rental units are located in shoddy, dilapidated, over-crowded and dangerous buildings. Many of them are flagrant examples of numerous Building Code violations relating to both safety and health. Translation: Dumps and fire traps. More than 45,000 students live in these apartment buildings and houses – 99% never having lived on their own previously. Can you say “lambs to the slaughter?”

A great many of these apartments are located in the Allston/Brighton section of Boston – near Boston University and Boston College. Allston is so bad when it comes to dilapidated housing that it has earned the nickname “Rat City,” for the reputation it has for vermin in that part of Boston. Who owns the vast majority of these buildings and apartments? Many of them are absentee landlords – also known as slumlords. Whether it’s old, creaky stairwells that can collapse, causing a dangerous Massachusetts stairwell fall injury, or old, rotted exterior porches and decks that can result in a Massachusetts porch collapse injury, or old, out-of-code electrical wiring that can cause a Massachusetts apartment building fire, the risks are numerous and very serious.

Here in the greater Boston area, the last week in August and the first few days of September always see the massive wave of incoming students and their parents, dropping them off to college. Unless their kids have on-campus dorm housing, parents who bring their kids here to college should think twice and be extremely careful about the off-campus rental housing they let their kids move in to. As a Boston apartment injury lawyer, I’ve seen far, far too many examples of students (and others) being seriously injured in these types of old, out-of-date, dilapidated apartment buildings. Whether in a large building or a three-decker, the vast majority of these apartments are unsafe and, frankly, downright disgusting.

The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team (the paper’s investigative division,) recently ran an entire series on this problem: “Shadow Campus.” That investigative series - nine months in the making - revealed shocking safety code violations, as well as health code violations, running rampant throughout certain parts of Boston: Allston, Brighton, The Fenway, and Mission Hill. Relying on government to fix the problem? Don’t even think that the City of Boston Inspectional Services Department, the city agency responsible for monitoring and enforcing safety and health code, will address these problems: Reasons?: 1) Students who intentionally over-crown these houses and buildings, in order to lower their individual share of the rents, will never report these conditions. 2) Students are also reluctant to report health code violations - like rats and insects – for the same reasons. 3) The landlords involved (slumlords) obviously aren’t going to say a word; and 4) The city doesn't have anywhere near enough staff to deal with these problems.

Result? The perfect storm for dangerous and even deadly Boston off-campus student housing conditions. If you haven’t clicked on the link above for the Boston Globe Spotlight Team Report on dangerous Boston off-campus housing, "Shadow Campus," I suggest that you do so now. In the very unfortunate event that you or someone you know has been injured in a Boston apartment accident, you should contact an experienced Boston apartment injury attorney. These types of cases can become very complex, and require substantial expertise to successfully represent an apartment injury victim.

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.