Boston Truck-Bike Fatality At The Science Museum: Another Death, and Solutions Seem Elusive

Tragically, it happened again yesterday: Another death from a bicyclist being hit by a motor vehicle – in this case, a dump truck. Given the large number of bike riders on the traffic-congested streets in and around the Boston area, it was only a matter of time. And worse, it will only be a matter of time until the next such Massachusetts pedestrian-motor vehicle accident happens.

According to media reports including The Boston Globe, the bicyclist who was killed in the collision was named Meng Jin, and he was a 24 year-old Boston University graduate student from Shanghai.  Boston University’s official news site, BU Today, also released this information. Technically, the collision occurred in Cambridge, but it was only feet from the Boston city line and the Science Museum, at the intersection of Monsignor O’Brien Highway and Museum Way. Massachusetts State Police reported that the young man was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead due to his injuries.

Preliminary accounts from witnesses and initial accident reconstruction has confirmed that the truck was stopped at the intersection crosswalk at Museum Way and O’Brien Highway, waiting for a green light to take a right turn onto Museum Way from O’Brien Highway. The bicyclist was also stopped, immediately to the right of the truck, also waiting for the lights to change to make the same right turn. When both the truck driver and bicyclist began to turn right onto Museum Way, the bicyclist was struck by one of the tires of the truck, apparently dragging him under the truck’s wheel or the truck body.

The truck is a 2016 model Western Star truck, and was being operated by Roach Trucking, apparently headquartered near my office here in Westwood.  Authorities reported that the driver of the truck was a 50-year-old man from the town of Leicester, MA, who was visibly, extremely upset at what happened – which was quite gruesome and bloody, according to witnesses. One can’t help but feel for this driver, also. Doubtless he did not mean for this tragedy to happen. But as a Massachusetts pedestrian-motor vehicle accident attorney, I can assure my readers: Few people intentionally set out to cause these events. That’s why lawsuits to recover damages for the victims are negligence lawsuits. As the investigation isn’t yet complete, it isn’t clear yet if the driver will be charged with any criminal offenses or cited for any motor vehicle violations.

So, what happens now to the family of this unfortunate young man? Who do they hold accountable? Who do they seek justice from? Will there be criminal charges brought against the trucking company or the truck driver?  (Per above, that’s not clear yet.)  What kind of civil justice can they expect? Is there anything that can be done for them? How long will the legal process take?

All good questions. Here are some very brief answers:

1) Who would bring any legal action on the young victim’s behalf?  If any lawsuit is brought, it would need to be brought by the young man’s family. If he was married, a legal claim would need, procedurally, to be brought by his widow.  If he wasn’t married, any such suit would need to be brought by his next of kin, presumably his family living in Shanghai (assuming that is where they live.) Either way, what is called a “Personal Representative” would first need to be appointed by a Probate Court to represent the estate of the victim. At that point, formal negligence claims and related processes can begin in the court system.

2) Who will pay for his damages? Since the victim was a bike rider, it is likely that he didn’t own a car here (though that is certainly possible.) Assuming that he didn’t, however, that means there would be no coverage from his own auto insurer, in the form of coverages called Personal Injury Protection )“PIP”) coverage, or Bodily Injury coverage.  A portion of his medical bills from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Emergency Room would likely be covered by any health insurance policy that he may have purchased while living here in Massachusetts, and those medical bills would also be included in any lawsuit seeking damages for his death – and that lawsuit would be against the trucking company owner. A lawsuit like this might also include co-defendants in the form of possibly the manufacturer of the truck or its components, if it was discovered that some type of mechanical failure or design defect of the truck or its components contributed to the accident.  Preliminarily, it is not likely that the driver of the truck, presuming that he was an employee of the truck owner, would be personally sued as an individual – though he would of course be named in any lawsuit. However, under a legal doctrine known as “Respondeat Superior”, the driver’s employer would be held legally responsible for his actions, not likely the driver, individually.

3) What kinds of damages can his family recover? Damages that could be awarded under Massachusetts law to the young man’s family, fall into different categories:

  • Lost future income and earnings
  • Conscious pain and suffering that the young man suffered prior to dying
  • Lost Society and Companionship
  • Loss of Consortium – this claim, however, can only be advanced by a surviving spouse
  • Punitive Damages – this claim is advanced when either corporate indifference to safety is alleged, including a claim known as “negligent hiring or entrustment”, if the driver was not qualified or trained sufficiently by the truck company to operate the truck.  Importantly:  I am not saying that I presently believe this is so.  This driver is quite clearly already upset enough over this tragedy.  I have no present information as to his qualifications or training.  Punitive damages can also be awarded if reckless or gross negligence is being claimed, as opposed to ordinary negligence.

The first thing this young man’s family needs to do is grieve the loss of their son and family member.  Afterward – and without waiting too much time, they must seek the legal counsel of a Boston Massachusetts truck-bike accident lawyer. Death cases like this aren’t for the kind of law firm or lawyer that handles them only “once in a while”, or occasionally. The financial and legal stakes are too high. I know this, because I’ve seen and litigated these kinds of cases for 25 years here in Boston. These cases demand high-level, proven superior legal talent, in order to achieve maximum legal and financial results on behalf of victims’ families.

I offer my sympathies to the family and loved ones of this promising young man. I know their pain is enormous; and will be for many years.

Something must be done to stem the growing number of bicyclist injuries and fatalities in the greater Boston area. The advocacy group Cambridge Bicycle Safety said in a statement at least 10 people have been killed while walking or biking in Cambridge since 2015 – and that’s just one city: There are over a dozen towns and cities that comprise the greater Boston area.

But what, exactly, is to be done? Municipalities can paint all the bicycle lane markers they want on streets – but with population growth increasing the numbers of cars and bicyclists sharing the streets ever faster, I and many other interested people aren’t 100% sure what to do, to stem this growing problem. It is not easily solvable.

And now, sadly, there is one less voice, to speak of these dangers.

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