Articles Posted in Personal Injury Legal Theories

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.

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.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts wrongful death case involving the effect of a waiver that the accident victim signed before his death. Ultimately, the court concluded that wrongful death claims are derivative of the accident victim’s claim, rather than independent. Thus any waiver signed by the accident victim can preclude a subsequent wrongful death case.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, a scuba diver drowned while participating in a promotional event that was sponsored by the manufacturer of a “dry suit.” During the event, an instructor was to lead dives for those who were interested in purchasing a dry suit. Before the event, the diver signed two documents: a release from liability and an equipment rental agreement.

The release of liability stated, among other things, that the diver was giving up “valuable rights, including the right to sue for injuries or death. The text was in capital letters and clearly visible. The equipment rental agreement contained similar language, purporting to limit the diver’s ability to sue the manufacturer in the event of injury or death.

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It is not uncommon for a Massachusetts car accident to involve multiple vehicles and injury victims. In these cases, injury victims may encounter challenges when seeking compensation for their injuries because there may be more than one negligent party. Although the law often provides a presumption that the rearmost driver in a rear-end collision was negligent, this presumption does not always apply. While one driver’s negligence may have started the series of events, there may be several other parties who contributed to the chain of events. These factors often cause injury victims to face the daunting task of filing multiple insurance claims or personal injury lawsuits.

Plaintiffs seeking representation for their Massachusetts car accident must be able to establish that the other party or parties are responsible for their injuries. It is essential that plaintiffs include all potential defendants and not just the individual who, in their mind, caused the accident. After identifying the appropriate defendants, the plaintiff must prove that the parties owed them a duty of care to operate their vehicles safely, and they breached that duty. This typically includes providing proof that the at-fault driver engaged in one of the common causes of chain-reaction accidents. Some of the common reasons for Massachusetts chain-reaction accidents are excessive speed, failure to abide by traffic laws, distracted driving, driving under the influence, and fatigued driving. Plaintiffs can provide evidence of these actions through surveillance footage, police reports, medical records, and witness accounts.

After meeting this burden, plaintiffs must be able to prove that the other parties’ negligence was the direct cause of their injuries and subsequent damages. This is often the most challenging phase of a chain-reaction accident lawsuit. In many cases, the driver who started the chain of events is not necessarily the cause of the following collisions, even if it occurs in the same sequence of events. Plaintiffs must engage in an in-depth and comprehensive investigation of the accidents, including discovery and depositions.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts slip and fall case that was filed against the town of Leicester (the Town). The opinion highlights the importance of complying with all procedural rules when dealing with a government defendant. In this case, because the plaintiff failed to ensure that the Town was served with timely notice of her claim, the court concluded that the plaintiff lost her right to a remedy.

Under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (MTCA), before a citizen files a claim against a public entity, that person must send a “claim in writing to the executive officer of such public employer within two years after the date upon which the cause of action arose.” This is known as a presentment letter. Unless a plaintiff sends a presentment letter, they cannot pursue a claim against the government entity.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was picking up her son from school on January 19, 2016, when she slipped and fell while on school grounds. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff suffered a fractured knee and wrist. Exactly two years later, the plaintiff sent a presentment letter to the Town. The Town received the letter on January 22, 2016, and issued a formal statement denying liability on February 7, 2018. The next month, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit.

Under Massachusetts law, individuals who suffer a fall on another’s property may be entitled to compensation for the injuries they sustained. However, Massachusetts slip and fall lawsuits are rarely as straightforward as they may seem. Plaintiffs in these cases must meet their evidentiary burden to recover against the negligent property owner.

Generally, plaintiffs possess the burden of proof in Massachusetts personal injury cases, and defendants do not need to prove that they are not liable for the victim’s injuries. Massachusetts premises liability law provides that property owners have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition for lawful visitors. As a threshold requirement, plaintiffs who want to recover against a property owner must be able to establish negligence. Slip and fall plaintiffs must be able to show that the property owner owed the visitor a duty of care, they breached that duty, and that breach caused the victim an injury.

Massachusetts slip and fall plaintiffs must be able to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the property owner violated their duty based on the general public’s views regarding acceptable behavior. Premises liability cases often vary depending on the type of property, visitor, and accident. However, regardless of the circumstances, most plaintiffs face challenges when trying to prove that the property owner did not take “reasonable” steps to keep their condition in “reasonably” safe condition. Issues often arise because reasonableness can be subjective, and the existence of a duty to act reasonably does not necessarily amount to negligence. Further, the law does not impose a burden on landowners to maintain their property in a way that ensures absolute safety for unforeseeable events.

After a serious Massachusetts car accident, the chances are that anyone who was injured faces hefty medical expenses. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, the at-fault party may be facing criminal charges for their role in causing the accident. If an at-fault party is convicted, they may be fined, placed on probation, or even incarcerated. In some cases, they will also be required to pay restitution to the accident victim.

However, the criminal process is not typically concerned with obtaining compensation for accident victims. Criminal law is designed to punish those who violate the law, rather than compensate those who are injured as a result of the defendant’s violation of the law. While providing restitution to accident victims is one aspect of the criminal justice system, any assistance provided is usually minimal and cannot be relied on.

First, an accident victim has little to no say about whether criminal charges are brought against another driver. The decision to bring charges rests with the county prosecutor, who may not decide to press charges except in the most egregious traffic accidents. Second, a defendant’s insurance company will not cover any restitution damages awarded by a court. Thus, an accident victim relies on a defendant’s ability to pay the restitution on their own, which may take months, years, or may never happen. In some cases, accident victims may be eligible for compensation through a Victim’s Compensation Fund, but even this process is often unreliable.

In a recent Massachusetts insurance dispute, the state’s high court found that consent-to-settle clauses are enforceable and do not violate public policy. The decision came in response to an engineering malpractice lawsuit that Massachusetts homeowners filed against a professional home engineer.

According to the court’s opinion, the homeowners hired the engineer to design and construct portions of their new home. The engineer signed an agreement with the town but underestimated the number of loads in his calculations. The engineer filed several inaccurate control reports and falsely certified that they complied with the applicable building codes. Shortly after construction, the defects became apparent, and after a confrontation, the engineer admitted to his miscalculations. The homeowners filed several claims against the engineer and his insurer.

The insurance company and the engineer had an agreement that the insurance company would not settle any claims without his consent. The homeowners asked for over $1 million in damages, but the engineer refused to settle for more than $100,000, despite the insurance company advising him that he faced a seven-figure settlement. The engineer was found liable for $460,000, which was paid partially by his insurance company. The homeowners then amended their complaint against the insurance company, arguing that they violated a state law that requires prompt settlements.

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