Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

As a Massachusetts catastrophic injury attorney, I see the real-life consequences of a lot of terrible accidents that were caused by someone else’s negligence.  I see these consequences in the eyes and the lives of my clients, who have to bear these consequences, sometimes for the rest of their lives.  Often these catastrophic accidents involve the death of the victim, and that is always a tragedy.

But each case is unique, and sometimes the tragedy is even more pronounced.  That appears to be the case in the death of Robinson Lalin, a 39 year-old father of five children.  Mr. Lalin was killed this past Sunday early morning when, according to all reports as of today, his arm became trapped in a Red Line subway car as it exited the Broadway T Station.  According to reports, Mr. Lalin was dragged to the end of the platform to his death, his arm being severed before his torso was crushed by the train’s exterior walls.  The damage to his body was so severe that his funeral services will reportedly not allow for an open casket.

Mr. Lain’s family is demanding answers from the T as to how this horrific event could have happened.  And so far, they aren’t getting much.  The T has reportedly only issued comments that both the operator of the train involved, and the train car itself, have been “removed from service.”  Other than that, the T has been tight-lipped.  The federal National Transportation Safety Board has now become involved.

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled earlier this week that colleges and universities can, under some circumstances, be held liable for the suicides of their students. While the plaintiffs who brought the suit – the parents of the student who committed suicide – ultimately did not prevail in this particular suit, they paved the way open for future liability on the part of schools, under certain conditions. While these courageous parents lost their case, this ruling is still a win for future such families, because a legal door has been opened now, which was never open before.

The case name is Nguyen vs. MIT, brought by the parents of Han Duy Nguyen. As an undergraduate at Stanford, Nguyen twice tried to kill himself. When he enrolled at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, he was visibly in distress, so much so that his own academic adviser believed he was extremely vulnerable. School officials offered him mental health counseling, but took no other special measures to assure his safety despite his extremely depressed state of mental health. On June 2, 2009, Nguyen, 25 years old, went to the sixth floor of a campus building and jumped to his death. Nguyen’s parents believed that MIT personnel knew about Nguyen’s vulnerable state, but failed to do enough to help him. They brought suit against the school and fought a valiant, seven-year effort to hold MIT liable for failure to act more responsibly surrounding Nguyen’s well-documented fight with depression. The legal theory of their case singed on the concept of “foreseeability,”which is a central element of tort law (generally speaking, the law of negligence.) Continue reading

In my previous post on this case, I discussed the tragic murders of Dr. Richard Field and Dr. Lina Bolaños, who were murdered in their multimillion dollar condominium, in the luxury Macallen Building, in South Boston on May 5 2017. This upscale building reportedly advertised 24-hour concierge and security services.

This tragic event raises a legal subject that not many people know about – a category of liability cases called “Negligent Security Lawsuits.”  These types of lawsuits are a sub-specialty of a broader area of law known as Premises Liability, and in sum they are brought when a person has been attacked or injured by a third party at or in a property when the property owner has not provided adequate security to protect persons lawfully at or on that property. (Common examples include (office buildings, commercial properties or parking lots.)   The families of Dr. Field and Dr. Bolanos have filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court alleging that the building’s owners, managers and the security company that they hired did not provide adequate security that could have prevented this tragedy.

As you might suspect, the key in the preceding sentence is “adequate security” – and what this term does – and more often, doesn’t consist of.  Because most property and building owners would have the public believe that placing someone who is wearing a security uniform is “adequate” security, and it isn’t.  In fact, it’s almost always a charade; a false image, and essentially a misrepresentation, to the persons lawfully in or on that property, designed to create the appearance of safety and security, when in fact this is not being provided.  What allegedly happened to this promising young couple, may well illustrate this point:  The alleged murderer, a previously convicted bank thief by the name of Bampumim Teixeira, was able to get inside the building, then gain access to the 11th floor where the doctors’ condo was located.  Teixeira  reportedly overpowered the Dr. Field and Dr. Bolanos with a knife, then held them hostage while ransacking the condo for money and valuables.  The two doctors were then murdered – their throats slashed.

The Involuntary Manslaughter conviction 6 weeks ago of Michelle Carter, in the texting-suicide death of Conrad Roy III, has generated international attention.  I’ve written previously in my Massachusetts criminal law blog about why I believe this conviction was sound and supported by both the law and the facts.  I’m writing this post today in my Massachusetts Injury Law blog, because a twist has developed in this, involving civil law, not criminal.

Yesterday, a Sentencing Hearing was held before the judge who found her guilty in June of Involuntary Manslaughter in this case, Massachusetts Juvenile Court judge Lawrence Moniz.   I joined host Aaron Keller at Dan Abrams’ LawNewz broadcast yesterday for over two hours of live analysis to examine and discuss Carter’s conviction in this case, and the sentence she received yesterday from Judge Moniz.  That criminal sentence was especially lenient, but did not surprise me.

Some background on sentencing issues, first. The relevant statute in Massachusetts provides for a maximum of 20 years’ incarceration upon a conviction of Involuntary Manslaughter.  The prosecution (Bristol County District Attorney’s Office) asked for a range of 7 to 12 years’ incarceration – in state prison.  Carter’s defense attorney asked the judge to impose no prison time at all, but instead only five years’ probation.  Absent a statute that imposes mandatory minimum sentences upon a conviction, which removes all discretion from a judge, the judge retains discretion in sentencing, between the minimum and the maximum.  Give that this case was in juvenile court, that range runs from no incarceration at all, to a maximum of 20 years in a state prison.

For all of my readers out there, here’s a quick question: Can a city or town police department be civilly sued because of the negligence of their police officers?

The answer is yes, although many people might not have thought so.

There is a story out of the city of Frederick, Maryland that is making national headlines right now, and as a Boston injury lawyer, I hope that the right attorney in Maryland is consulted in this matter. Why? To hopefully file a lawsuit for negligence and wrongful death in this apparently horrific case involving the death of an innocent person at the hands of what at this time appears to be a case of police brutality and police misconduct. The story concerns an unfortunate man with Down syndrome, who simply wished to sit through a second showing of the film Zero Dark Thirty in his neighborhood movie theater. And the desire to do that has left him dead.

Here’s even more proof that you need to exercise extreme caution when you drive near any construction vehicles, if you want to avoid a Massachusetts car accident.

If you’ve ever been traveling behind a large trailer that is hauling heavy equipment and feared that the trailer might fall on top of your car, you’re right to be fearful. This past week a backhoe fell off a National Grid truck, crushing a woman to death, injuring three others, and invoking a Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit alleging negligence.

Here are the reported facts: In 2011, National Grid had apparently replaced its fleet of heavy, 10-wheeled trucks with smaller, six-wheeled trucks. National Grid drivers soon complained that the smaller trucks didn’t have enough power to properly haul heavy equipment. They asserted that the smaller trucks were difficult to stop and control, especially when going down hills. Despite that, a foreman was instructed to test-drive one of the trucks – one towing a huge backhoe – on the day of the accident.

Financial compensation produced by a lawsuit can never take the place of a loved one who has died as a result of another party’s negligence.

However, such compensation can, at the very least, provide a measure of justice to the victim’s survivors for the loss of companionship, affection and love that they will inevitably suffer as a result of the victim’s death. A lawsuit alleging Massachusetts wrongful death can arise from a number of different circumstances, ranging from Massachusetts medical malpractice, to Massachusetts motor vehicle accidents, to product liability and more. Another area of law that might give rise to a claim of wrongful death, is the law of Massachusetts premises liability. The law of premises liability governs the civil liability of owners of property, commercial or otherwise, when a lawful visitor to that property is injured or killed due to negligence of the property owner.

A very interesting Boston case involving a claim of wrongful death, is grounded in large measure on the principles of premises liability law. The case is the now-famous criminal case involving the “Craig’s List Killer,” where a woman who was renting a room in the Boston Marriott Copley Place Hotel for prostitution, was allegedly killed by Philip Markoff, who was accused of the killing. Mr. Markoff committed suicide while being held in jail awaiting his trial, and as a result was never convicted in the case. The victim was Julissa Brisman, a 25 year-old prostitute. Ms. Brisman’s mother, Carmen Guzman, recently filed the wrongful death suit in Suffolk Superior Court, naming the Boston Marriott Hotel as defendant.

A Worcester, Massachusetts gun manufacturer has agreed to pay the families of two men, one of whom was killed and one who was wounded, to settle a Massachusetts wrongful death suit that resulted after the men were shot from a gun manufactured by Kahr Arms.

Before you wonder why a gun manufacturer would be named as a defendant in a civil suit for damages stemming from the use of a gun that it manufactured: Remember, there is always (as here) a story behind the story: You see, the man who shot the victims was an employee of Kahr Arms, who stole the gun from his employer and then used it to shoot the two victims outside a Worcester nightclub in 1999. That employee had a criminal record that his employer never checked into, and the suit alleged that Kahr should have conducted employee background checks prior to hiring the employee, who was quite dangerous. The suit also claimed that the company should have employed better employee theft-prevention methods to prevent an employee from stealing a gun for illegal use, such as installing metal detectors at the plant to prevent employees from stealing the guns they manufactured.

Guzman’s family and the man who was wounded filed a wrongful death suit against Kahr Arms, and eventually Kahr Arms agreed to pay $600,000 to settle the case before going to a jury. As a Boston/Dedham Massachusetts wrongful death lawyer, it’s easy for me to see why the defendant settled this case. Instrumental in the litigation and settlement of the case was the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., named after President Ronald Regan’s Press Secretary who suffered a permanent brain injury in the assassination attempt against Reagan. The Brady Center termed the settlement the largest damages payment to date made by a gun manufacturer accused of negligence in the criminal use of a gun.

This past March, a four year-old boy was killed in an escalator accident at a mall in Auburn, Massachusetts. The boy, Mark DiBona, was pulled by the handrail of the escalator into a 6 ¼ inch gap that existed alongside the escalator. The boy was pulled into the gap that abutted a Plexiglas barrier, and he fell one story to the floor below, suffering devastating head injuries. After doctors determined that the boy suffered extensive and irreversible brain damage, and essentially declared him brain dead, the boy’s parents donated his organs.

Escalator safety inspections are normally conducted by the state. Media reports following this incident caused the Patrick administration to conduct a review of not only when this particular escalator was last inspected and by whom, but also a statewide review of escalator safety inspections in general. This inquiry led to disciplinary action being taken against not only the two inspectors that were responsible for the Auburn mall escalator, but approximately two thirds of the state’s total escalator inspectors, for approving escalators with safety violations that were similar to those that caused Mark DiBona’s death.

Who is legally liable for injuries or death in such a situation? The answer is, potentially a number of different parties. And who brings the suit? When the case involves a fatality, the answer is the executor of the victim’s estate – in this case, the parents of this boy, on behalf of his estate. The potential defendants in a case like this, can be several: The designer of the escalator; the manufacturer of the escalator (if different); the company that installed the escalator; the property owner of the mall, the retailer in whose store the escalator was operating in; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (who employed the escalator inspectors); and possibly other potential defendants. The legal reason why so many potential defendants are named is because each party may have played a role in the constellation of events that ultimately led to the injury or death that is the result of this suit.

The most recent example of how social media has come to bring the culture in this country down even further, is yet another tragic tale: Tyler Clementi, an 18 year-old gay student at Rutgers University, took his life earlier this week by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New York City. The reason for his suicide: His roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Ravi’s classmate, Molly Wei, secretly videotaped sexual encounters between Clementi and another gay man, and then. according to published media reports, posted the video on YouTube. Humiliated and desperate, Clementi took his life.

The tragic sequence of events began with a Twitter post sent on Sept. 19 by Ravi: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Later that night, according to investigators, Ravi used a video camera that he had set up in his dormitory room to live stream Clementi’s intimate encounter on the Internet. Three days later, Clementi, by all accounts a fine person and an accomplished violinist – killed himself by jumping from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. A promising young life that could have brought beautiful music into the world, amidst all the ugliness this world can offer, gone. This is just the latest in a series of deaths by young American, all of which followed the online posting of vicious and hurtful material.

The Middlesex County, New Jersey District Attorney’s office have charged Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, N.J., and Molly Wei, 18, of Princeton Junction, N.J., each with two counts of invasion of privacy for using “the camera to view and transmit a live image” of Mr. Clementi. In addition, Ravi was charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for attempting to post a similar live feed on the Internet on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi’s suicide. In New Jersey, the most serious charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.