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William D. Kickham
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Those three words are what most dog owners would say about their beloved pet, whenever someone has been the victim of a dog bite.  I know – both as a plaintiffs’ attorney representing victims of dog bites – as well as a dog lover myself.  Dogs are wonderful creatures:  They offer friendship, loyalty, unconditional love and much more.  And nine times out of ten, when someone’s dog attacks and injures another person, the dog thinks his/her owner is being threatened somehow and is acting to defend the owner.

But that doesn’t make the experience any less physically painful, or any less injurious for the person who’s attacked.  Not only is a dog bite extremely painful, for some people it can cause lasting psychological trauma.  The number of dog owners in this country increases each year, especially now that many hotels and hospitality organizations welcome them.  Postal deliverers (formerly “mailmen” and mailwomen”) have always been at especially high risk for dog bites: Almost 6,000 USPS employees were attacked by dogs just in 2019. The problem is so widespread that the Postal Service promotes National Dog Bite Awareness Week each June to raise awareness of the problem, complete with an over-sized laminated card bearing the image of a large, snarling dog, baring its teeth.

But obviously, postal carriers aren’t the only victims of dog bites.  Not in the slightest. And as a Massachusetts dog bite lawyer who has handled numerous dog bite cases over the years, I can assure you that the dog involved isn’t typically “Cujo” (from the film of the same name) or a German Shepherd that you’d find on prison grounds. Yes. Little “Fifi” can cause a lot of damage, too.  If you doubt that, take a look at her teeth.

For nearly the past four months, our way if life in this state and country has been turned almost completely upside down.  We’ve been forced in to “lockdown”, workplaces shut, schools closed for months on end, and everyone required to “practice social distancing”.  Now it’s summer, with its glorious heat and long, lazy days, and people just want to get outside, play, and have a good time, with many opting for “staycations” instead of travel.

And having a good time in the summer while staying at home, often means backyard water sports of some kind – usually swimming pools, whether inground or above-ground.

Yet, hidden among the fun and enjoyment that so many people understandably seek in swimming pools and watersports during summer, tragedy can occur.  Actually,while water sports injuries are not as common as other types of accidents such as car accidents, truck accidents, nursing home injuries and other types of injuries, Massachusetts swimming pool accidents happen more than most people might think.  The reasons for this make it no surprise why this is so.

Readers of my blog know of my devotion to protecting the legal rights and the health & dignity of nursing home patients, “memory care” patients, as well as hospital and rehabilitation center patients.  These people are the elders who raised us, and they are now among the most vulnerable and often forgotten in society.  While I been practicing in this sub-specialty and writing about these issues for several years, I’ve recently published a series of accelerated publications on this topic, in the wake of COVID-19.  Unfortunately, in today’s post, I have some troubling news to report.

At the behest (more accurately, pressure) of the Massachusetts nursing home industry and its related healthcare partners, the Baker administration recently passed & signed special legislation providing for legal immunity against the nursing home industry and hospitals, for injuries to patients occurring during the COVID-19 problem.  The effective date of the liability immunity providing to health care organizations in the act, is retroactive to March 10, 2020.  The text of this new law can be found by clicking here.

This legislation has profound and very troubling consequences for the care, the safety and the health of nursing home patients in this state.  Legally, under normal circumstances, if a patient in a Massachusetts nursing home, rehabilitation center or hospital suffered injuries due to negligence on the part of a staff member of the provider, that provider could be held liable for resulting damages, especially pain and suffering.  The plaintiff in such a circumstance (which would be either a guardian, a health care proxy, or the patient him or her self), would first need to demonstrate that a relevant “standard of care” had been breached by the nursing home or other defendant, in order to recover damages.  That “standard of care” is normally deemed to have been violated if the plaintiff can demonstrate that the actions or inactions involved in the matter, constituted what is called “ordinary negligence.”  This is a standard of evidence that can sometimes be legally challenging, but is typically not a bar to legal recovery.

We hope that you’ve been dealing as well as you can with all the frustration from what can only be described as this awful situation with COVID-19, and that our previous posts on this subject have been of help to you.

Predictably, a number of Massachusetts nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities have been reported to exhibit troubling rates of COVID-19 infection, and possible violations of state and federally imposed health, safety and infection control protocols, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health/DPH recently reported.

The average age of people who have died of COVID-19 in the facilities reported is 81. The death rate of those 80 and older is 393 per 100,000, which is more than four times as high as the next highest age group.

Understandably, we are receiving a high number of calls from clients, friends and potential new clients who are worried about their loved ones in Massachusetts nursing homes, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation facilities, and assisted living facilities.  A number of these facilities throughout the state have recently been reported to exhibit troubling rates of COVID-19 infection, and possible violations of state and federally imposed health, safety and infection control protocols.  The worries that these families are experiencing is made even worse due to the fact that visitors to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, are restricted during the current stay-at-home orders – even family members (absent an emergency).  Stress doesn’t begin to describe what many families and loved ones have been experiencing as result of all this.

In response, the state has set up a dedicated Nursing Home Family Resource line, available 7 days a week from 9am-5pm.  That number is: (617) 660-5399.  Regulations recently enacted make it mandatory that nursing homes report COVID-19 cases to residents,  families of residents, and to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, we have published additional COVID-19 information at our website at:  www.kickhamlegal.com.   If you call the above Nursing Home Family Resource line and don’t get the answers or results that you feel you need, and you want to speak with a law firm that specializes in nursing home neglect or abuse, please feel free to call us at either phone number on this page or send us a contact form.  We will help you any way that we can, and there is no charge at all to speak with us.

The coronavirus epidemic has caused heartache enough for people who have been infected or lost loved ones due to the infection.  And while everyone is (for the most part) understandably taking measures to protect themselves and safeguard their own health, who is protecting our seniors and the frail in Massachusetts nursing homes?  Is the thinking for many people who don’t have a loved one in a nursing home, “That’s not my problem?”

If this viral epidemic has exposed anything, it’s exposed how few Massachusetts nursing homes regularly take measures necessary to prevent the development or spread of viruses and bacteria in their facilities.  As a Massachusetts nursing home neglect lawyer, I can assure my readers:  It’s a fact that most nursing homes and “skilled nursing facilities” are filled with viruses and infectious diseases.  Don’t be fooled by what you can see in these facilities, with the naked eye.  It’s also what you can’t see that threatens patient health & safety:  Viruses and bacteria.  To keep these infectious diseases at bay requires diligent effort and attention to proper disinfection procedures, methods, procedural systems and algorithms.  And the Coronavirus epidemic has exposed this (literally) dirty little secret:  That as many as two-thirds of nursing homes in Massachusetts were cited a minimum of once in the past three years for deficiencies in infection control.

Massachusetts law requires nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, “skilled nursing facilities”, assisted living facilities as well as businesses not related to health care, to undertake prudent measures to to reduce the risk of spreading the Coronavirus as well as other infectious diseases.  Among these measures are strict disinfection protocols, as well as constant monitoring of any employee or patient who has exhibited symptoms of the virus, such as fever, dry cough or muscle aches and pains.  Once such a potentially infected person has been identified, an investigatory process known as “contact tracing” must be immediately implemented.  This involves re-tracing that person’s contact with other individuals, to warn those individuals that they may have been infected with the virus, and taking reasonable measures to remove that person from the facility’s population.

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Like many attorneys, I’ve been getting a lot of calls recently from present and potential new accident and injury clients, who want to know how their cases are going to impacted by the quarantine and social distancing measures currently in effect in Massachusetts (as well as across the United States).  Potential new clients who have been recently injured due to someone else’s neglect also want to know if we can take on new cases.  I want all of our existing clients, as well as potential new clients, to know that we are providing uninterrupted legal services and communications during this time.  While most law offices and insurance companies have instructed all staff to work remotely, we can and we are still actively litigating and negotiating our cases.

Specifically:

While we’ve all been hearing about Coronavirus for the past two weeks or so, this past week has seen the most drastic and impacting of events surrounding this subject.  Seemingly, almost everything has been shut down around us: Important government offices & agencies, colleges & universities , grammar & high schools, sports games, businesses left & right. Uncertainty seems to be the order of the day, and unfortunately, it may continue to be this way for some time.

Regardless of this virus and the measures being taken to deal with it, people will still suffer accidents and injuries during this period of uncertainty. As a result, our office has been receiving a lot of calls from existing and potential new clients, wanting to know if they could still meet with me as their cases move forward, or if other legal problems suddenly develop. The answer is, yes.  No one here has tested positive for this virus, and so long as clients that need to meet with me also have not tested positive for this virus, I am happy to meet with you at your home, as my website advertises, and obviously also speak with you by phone. No one who is facing a serious legal problem or issue should delay speaking with or meeting with an attorney due to this present issue.

In addition, the Massachusetts Trial Court has issued Standing Orders that limit in-court appearances to emergency matters that cannot be heard through videoconferencing or teleconferencing and those notices can be found by clicking here.

As I’ve written about previously on both this blog and elsewhere, the Massachusetts Legislature finally woke up last fall and presented Gov. Charlie Baker with a bill with (supposedly) teeth in it to ban hand-held cell phone use in Massachusetts, and the Gov. signed it.  After 90 days from signing, the law went into effect on February 23 2020 with what I regard as a needless grace period for offenders until March 31 – i.e., drivers in Massachusetts caught using hand-held cell phones while operating a motor vehicle will only be issued warnings until March 31.  As of April 1, offenders will be fined according to a tiered structure (see below).  Given the fact that the law was passed and signed with much fanfare and media publicity several months ago, as a Boston car accident lawyer I thought that this grace period was a needless concession to cell phone carriers, but the chief components of the new law are worth re-capping here.

This new law provides different restrictions and legal impacts for drivers over the age of eighteen, and drivers under eighteen.

Drivers who are age 18 or over:

Here it is Thanksgiving Day 2019, and I thought I’d post these thoughts before sitting down for dinner.  Actually, I’ve made it a practice to contemplate on what I’m grateful for almost every day of the year that I can:  It’s a smart habit to form.

On a professional level, as a Massachusetts car accident attorney, I’m grateful that – finally – a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving has been signed into law.  I’ve been publicly advocating for this for a few years now, and Gov. Charlie Baker finally signed the measure into law this past Monday.  Very briefly, the new law’s provisions:

  • Use of hand-held electronic devices while driving a motor vehicle – importantly, whether cell phones or otherwise – is banned beginning February 23, 2020. That’s 90 days after the law was signed by the governor, but the law provides a grace period through to March 31, 2020, which means that drivers who are cited for violation of the law prior to March 31, will receive a warning, not a fine.  As a Boston injuries attorney who has seen far too many preventable injuries caused by driver cell phone use, I thought that this additional grace period was unnecessary, and represented too much of a politics-based concession to the members of the Flat Earth Society who claimed that drivers would “need time to adjust”.  My immediate response:   Please.  No further comment needed.  At any rate, from April 1, 2020 forward, violators will be hit with fines, as discussed further below.  Aside from my observation above about the unnecessary ‘grace period’, inside each of the additional bullets below are my thoughts as an attorney who deals every day with accidents and injuries that are caused by Massachusetts distracted driving accidents.