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Massachusetts car accidents, especially those involving motorcycles, can have long-lasting and potentially fatal consequences. After an accident, victims and their families must understand how Massachusetts procedural and substantive rules will impact their claim to recovery. One of the most critical rules that may affect an injury victim’s claim to compensation is the state’s comparative negligence statute.

Historically, most states followed the contributory negligence theory, which acts as a defense to liability in a car accident or other injury lawsuit. Under the original theory, plaintiffs were not entitled to compensation if the defendant in the case could prove that the plaintiff contributed in any way to their own injuries. In addressing the inherent unfairness of this statute, Massachusetts lawmakers moved towards comparative negligence. Comparative negligence is a modern alternative to contributory negligence.

Comparative negligence allows the trier of fact to evaluate all evidence that each party presents and assign fault on a percentage basis. Massachusetts’s modified comparative negligence rule allows plaintiffs to recover as long as their portion of responsibility was less than 51 percent. In situations where a plaintiff is more than 51 percent responsible, they generally cannot recover. Further, it is important to note that under this rule, a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault.

When a motorist, passenger, or bystander suffers injuries in a Massachusetts car accident, determining fault and apportioning liability is a crucial part of the recovery process. Massachusetts is a no-fault state, which means that an accident victim’s insurance company will cover a portion of their medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses, regardless of who is at fault. However, these benefits do not cover expenses related to pain and suffering, loss of consortium and companionship, or loss of earning capacity damages.

Although a Massachusetts injury victim’s insurance company is generally supposed to pay or reimburse victims for their accident-related medical expenses, victims often suffer substantial damages that insurance will not cover. Under certain circumstances, a motorist may file a personal injury lawsuit against another driver when they meet the statutory threshold. Under Massachusetts law, motorists who wish to sue another driver for their injuries must establish that either their “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses are over $2,000, they suffered broken bones or a loss of hearing or vision, they suffered a partial or complete loss of a body part, or serious disfigurement, or death.

If a Massachusetts car accident victim meets the tort threshold, they must then establish fault before they can recover. The state follows a “modified comparative negligence” system to determine and allocate damages. Car accident victims can recover for their injuries if they are less than 51% at-fault for the accident. If a judge or jury determines that the victim was more than 51% at fault, they will be barred from recovery.

Recently, Consumer Reports (CR), a nonprofit organization that provides research and reviews to improve products, issued a report that Ikea, a popular furniture retailer, is facing a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that the company advertised and sold millions of dressers that they knew were inherently dangerous and prone to tipping over. Further, the complaint states that the retailer did not appropriately notify consumers or issue refunds for the dresser after they were recalled in 2016. The class-action lawsuit highlights the serious dangers and injuries that Massachusetts consumers may face because of defective products.

Statistics by CR indicate that someone in the United States suffers injuries less than every half hour because of an appliance or furniture tip-over. Further, dresser tip-overs account for over 200 deaths in the past twenty years. Many of these victims were under six-years-old. The above-referenced lawsuit was filed on behalf of a family who purchased the dressers before the recall. When the family tried to return the dressers in 2018, the store denied their attempt. The lawsuit claims that other families experienced similar denials. The class-action lawsuit seeks to redress consumers who purchased defective dressers and compel the retailer to remove the dressers from the homes of customers. Several consumer protection groups wrote to Ikea, stating that they did not do enough to notify parents about their dressers’ risks or make it easy to return or remedy defective products.

Many consumers are not aware that the furniture industry operates under a “voluntary tip-over” testing standard. The testing evaluates whether a dresser that measures higher than 30 inches can stay upright with 50 pounds hanging from an open drawer. However, because testing is not mandatory, manufacturers are not required to conduct the test or meet that standard. Research into these accidents reveals that close to half of these accidents occur when children are left alone in a room. CR advises that consumers refrain from putting televisions on top of dressers, citing reports that the majority of tip-over fatalities involved televisions and dressers tipping over. The most effective way to prevent these accidents is to secure dressers to the wall. However, this is not always possible for consumers, and manufacturers should provide the public with safer products and a way to affix dressers to walls.

Defective products can result in serious injuries and death, and Massachusetts injury victims should understand their rights and remedies in these situations. Massachusetts encourages companies to act responsibly in the design, manufacturer, and distribution of their products by providing safety standards. If a person is injured because of a defective product, the victim or their family may hold the maker or seller of the product liable for their damages.

Under state law, there are three types of Massachusetts product liability claims: negligence, breach of warranty, and unfair and deceptive practices. Negligence claims require the victim to establish that the manufacturer breached a duty of care owed to its customers by acting unreasonably regarding their defective product. Plaintiffs pursuing a breach of warranty claim must prove that the product is not fit for the ordinary purpose for which the product is generally used. Finally, under the state’s unfair and deceptive practices law, plaintiffs may recover attorneys’ fees and additional damages if they can establish that the manufacturer acted in bad faith.

Typically, product liability claims stem from a product’s defective design, defective manufacture, or a company’s failure to warn or appropriately market the item. For example, recently, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service announced that Nestle Prepared Foods Company is recalling nearly 30,000 pounds of a chicken product found in Lean Cuisine Fettuccini Alfredo. The product does not provide a warning that the meal contains soy, a common allergen. Additionally, the product contains chicken; however, the meal is not supposed to contain meat, and does not list chicken as an ingredient.

Massachusetts truck accidents often involve multi-layered interactions between drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, road conditions, and weather. Truck accidents are one of the most devastating types of accidents and can have life-long implications on all of the parties involved. This is especially true in instances where the events stem from a truck rollover. A rollover accident occurs when a truck’s wheels lose contact with the roadway, resulting in the truck ending up on its side or upside-down. Many of these accidents are preventable, and Massachusetts injury victims may seek compensation from the negligent truck driver or their employer.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are four leading causes of Massachusetts rollover accidents. First, a truck driver’s speed while negotiating a curve is one of the main reasons for these types of accidents. Trucks have a high center of gravity, and drivers must maintain a safe speed to avoid toppling. Drivers must consider the height of their vehicle and cargo load when operating their trucks. The failure to modify their speed in relation to changing road conditions can have disastrous consequences.

Second, making sudden steering changes can cause the truck to lose traction and rollover. Additionally, improperly loaded or insecure cargo can result in a rollover. Truck drivers and their companies must ensure that their vehicles are safely packed. When a load is unbalanced or improperly secured, the truck may suffer a change in the center of gravity, which can reduce stability and result in a rollover. Finally, driver error, including impairment, distraction, and fatigue, can all result in this type of accident.

In addition to negligence or recklessness, some Massachusetts car accidents stem from an at-fault party’s criminal conduct. For example, a motorist who causes an accident because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol may face criminal charges in addition to civil claims. Although civil and criminal claims go through two distinct processes, the outcome of a criminal case may affect an individual’s civil suit. Criminal charges or a conviction may help a civil plaintiff’s claim, but they are not necessary to achieve a favorable outcome in a personal injury case.

There are many ways a criminal charge may affect a Massachusetts personal injury lawsuit. In cases where a criminal defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by a judge or jury, the ruling can be beneficial to civil plaintiffs. For example, if a motorist admits that he was driving under the influence when an accident occurred, a plaintiff can likely use this evidence to establish liability. However, defendants who are found not guilty are not absolved from responsibility for any civil claims. The outcome of these cases can be different because criminal and civil cases have independent standards of proof. Under the criminal system, the state must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”; whereas, under the civil system, plaintiffs only need to show that the defendant was liable “by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Criminal defendants also retain the right to plead, “no contest.” This means that they are admitting the facts but not admitting guilt. No contest pleas cannot be used against a defendant in civil proceedings. For example, if a defendant pleads no contest in a driving while impaired criminal case, a plaintiff will not generally be allowed to use the conviction to show that the defendant was driving while impaired. Instead, the plaintiff may call arresting officers or present other evidence to establish that the defendant was under the influence.

Recently, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals issued an opinion involving a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs on behalf of their son after the young boy suffered serious injuries falling from a zip line in a friend’s backyard. A superior court judge granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the zip line was unreasonably dangerous, and the defendants were liable for their failure to warn the child of the danger.

According to the opinion, the plaintiffs brought their younger son with them when they went to pick up their older son from a sleepover at the defendants’ home. When they arrived, the defendants met the boy and his parents outside. The boy noticed a zip line between two trees and asked the defendants if he could use it. The defendant purchased and installed the zip line himself, but he did not include a seat. The boy’s father held him and guided him on the zip line, but he let go after a certain point. As he was traveling down the zip line, his hands began to slip, and although the boy’s father was able to grab him, the boy’s arm slammed into the ground, resulting in serious injuries requiring several surgeries.

The plaintiffs argued the defendants were negligent in not installing a safety seat, as the manufacturer recommended. They argued that the zip line was unreasonably dangerous, that the defendants negligently maintained the zip line and that they failed to warn or remedy the hazardous condition. The defendants countered that the danger of a six-year-old boy dangling from a zip line was obvious; therefore, a warning was not necessary.

Massachusetts drivers are required to drive in a safe manner and use sound judgment when on the road. For the most part, motorists do a good job when it comes to staying safe. However, each year, over 350 people are killed in Massachusetts car accidents, and thousands more are seriously injured.

Wrong-way crashes are one of the more common – and deadly – types of Massachusetts car accidents. Wrong-way crashes often result in head-on collisions, which are known to be among the most dangerous collisions. Head-on collisions rarely result in minor bumps and bruises, and more often cause serious, lifelong injuries. Almost always, head-on collisions are caused by driver error. Below are a few of the most common causes of head-on collisions:

  • Distracted driving

A Boston news report recently provided an update on the New Hampshire crash that killed seven bikers on a north woods highway. The report indicates the lengths that defense attorneys will go to in hopes of shifting liability away from their client. Last year, a Massachusetts truck driver was traveling west when he crossed over the center line and slammed into a group of bikers that were part of a veterans group. When the police arrived at the scene, the truck driver explained that he was reaching for a drink when the accident occurred. The police let him go. However, he was arrested three days later after he tested positive for narcotics and amphetamines. Additionally, federal investigators discovered that his truck had over 20 safety violations. He was subsequently charged with seven counts of negligent homicide to which he pled not guilty.

According to the State Police investigation, the trailer the truck driver was hauling was about 1.5 feet over the center line when the accident occurred. In a disturbing — yet not all that surprising — move, the truck driver’s defense attorney recently challenged the police report by referring to a report prepared by an “independent” accident reconstructionist. The report claims that one of the victim’s motorcycle was in the centerline at the time of the collision. Additionally, the defendant’s motion claims that the motorcyclist was not looking at the road in front of him, and turned around to look at the group of riders right before the collision. Further, the defense motion includes the biker’s autopsy reports, which show that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit. The State acknowledged receipt of the motion and stated that they would be filing an objection with the court.

Under Massachusetts law, defendants in personal injury and wrongful death actions will often come up with creative arguments as to why they are not responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. Often, defendants rely on the state’s contributory negligence laws to avoid liability for their actions. Under the contributory negligence laws, a plaintiff’s total recovery amount can be reduced if they are found partially at fault for causing the accident. And, if the defendant is able to convince the jury that the plaintiff was 51 percent at fault or more, the plaintiff will not be able to recover for their injuries at all.

Under Massachusetts law, parents maintain the legal obligation to provide for their child’s safety and well being. In that same vein, parents and guardians may also be responsible for the negligent actions of their children. This issue often comes into play when a teenage driver causes a Massachusetts car accident.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately six teens die every day from motor vehicle accidents. These accidents frequently occur during Memorial Day and Labor Day. Compared to the rest of the year, research suggests that the rate of Massachusetts accidents involving teenagers increases over 25% during this time. In these cases, Massachusetts injury victims may hold the teenage driver’s parents liable for their injuries and damages.

Massachusetts car accidents involving teenage drivers are more likely to lead to serious and fatal accidents because the drivers tend to be inexperienced, distracted, negligent, and reckless. Younger drivers are more likely to make unsafe and dangerous choices because they have less experience than older drivers. This inexperience can lead to speeding, not wearing a seat belt, and generally unsafe driving habits. Additionally, according to a safety advocacy group, the majority of car accidents involving teenage drivers were the result of distracted driving. Using cellphones, eating, drinking, and talking to passengers all contribute to distracted driving accidents. Finally, teenagers who operate their vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol are more likely to cause a fatal accident.

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