Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Massachusetts’ wrongful death statutory framework provides the circumstances under which family members can obtain compensation for the death of their loved one due to negligence or recklessness of another party. The state’s wrongful death statute is complicated and contains many restrictions and procedural requirements. For example, employers may not be held liable under Massachusetts wrongful death law for an employee’s death, even if their death resulted from the employer’s negligent, wanton, or reckless acts.

While workers’ compensation benefits may be available in certain circumstances, these benefits are often woefully insufficient to fairly compensate a family for the loss of a loved one.  However, in some cases, an employee’s injuries or illnesses result from a liable third-party. These are referred to as third-party personal injury claims. An example of a Massachusetts third-party claim would be a case against the manufacturer of a defective product or machine that was responsible for the employee’s injuries. Another example of a third-party claim would be if a delivery driver was struck by another motorist while making deliveries. Given the complexities of these cases, it is essential that injury victims contact an attorney to discuss their rights, as many workplace accidents can have long-term and potentially fatal consequences.

For example, recently, a news report described an accident that resulted in an MBTA worker’s death. The worker died after an accident near the Charleston Bus Yard. Evidently, he was struck by a vehicle as he was walking to bus. Transit police indicated that the worker suffered fatal injuries around 5 a.m. but stated that an investigation was ongoing. The agency expressed its collective mourning for the accident. The accident is still under investigation.

According to recent National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data, over 60 million children in the United States are involved in traffic accidents every year. In fact, Massachusetts motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death for children 14 years old and younger. Other causes of death are bicycle accidents, injuries related to incidents at school or after school programs, and dog bites. Although many safety agencies have implored the public to use child safety seats and other restraints, these accidents and injuries continue to occur, and the outcomes can be devastating.

When a child suffers injuries or wrongful death in a Massachusetts accident, their loved ones must understand the child’s rights and remedies. Although the evidentiary burden is typically the same, whether the victim is a minor or an adult, there are some differences between these lawsuits. First, under the law, children cannot bring their own lawsuits. Anyone under 18 years old is considered a “minor.” The law requires that these lawsuits are filed by the child’s “next friend.” Usually, this is the minor’s parent or legal guardian. Settlement agreements for $10,000 or higher must receive approval from the Court. A judge will review the settlement and ensure that the representative understands that the funds must be used for the child’s benefit. Finally, the statute of limitations is different in cases involving children. In typical accident cases, the statute of limitations expires three years after the date of the incident causing the injury. However, the statute of limitations in minors’ cases expires three years after reaching their 18th birthday.

Accidents involving children are particularly tragic and can result in serious permanent disability or death. For instance, a recent report indicates that a 10-year-old girl suffered fatal injuries in a multi-vehicle accident in Massachusetts. An initial investigation reveals that the children were passengers in a Subaru driven by a 29-year-old woman. The woman made contact with the back of a Toyota SUV, and both drivers pulled over to assess the damage. They stopped in the left lane and decided to address the damage later; as they were about to continue driving, a JEEP crashed into the Subaru, causing it to slam into the Toyota. The young girl died in the accident, and six other people suffered serious injuries.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, wrong-way crashes result in nearly 400 fatalities every year. Although wrong-way crashes do not occur as much as other types of Massachusetts car accidents, when they do, they are much more likely to result in a fatality. Wrong-way crashes occur when one vehicle is traveling in a direction against the proper flow of traffic. These accidents typically happen on a divided highway or an exit or entrance ramp, and generally involve head-on collisions occurring at high speeds. If a wrong-way collision results in the death of a motorist, it may be the basis for a Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit.

Despite the various public service campaigns to educate and enforce safe driving habits, wrong-way accidents still occur. The leading causes of wrong-way crashes are motorists driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding and engaging in dangerous maneuvers, improper passing, vehicle malfunctioning, and road hazards that lead to a loss of control. The nature of these accidents tends to cause serious and potentially fatal injuries. Some common injuries after wrong-way accidents are traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, broken bones, and burn injuries. Many victims and their families experience enormous financial burdens in the aftermath of these accidents.

Recently, a Boston news report indicated that two people died, and one person suffered severe injuries in a wrong-way accident. According to the report, a 30-year-old woman drove her vehicle in the wrong direction on a highway. She collided with another car driven by a 66-year-old woman. The woman was transferred to a Boston hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries. A 39-year-old passenger in her car died at the scene of the accident. The accident involved another vehicle; however, that passenger did not require emergency medical treatment. Police stated that they are continuing to investigate the circumstances that led to the tragic accident.

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.

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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There is nothing more devastating than losing someone you love unexpectedly. If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, our highly skilled Massachusetts wrongful death attorneys can help you take legal action. At The Law Offices of Barry Feinstein & Affiliates, P.C., we are committed to helping our clients receive the closure and compensation they deserve in their case.

In GGNSC Chestnut Hill LLC v. Schrader, the First Circuit asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) to determine whether a wrongful lawsuit filed by the decedent’s survivors can be bound by an arbitration agreement signed by the decedent or by a person on the decedent’s behalf.

The facts of the case are as follows. The resident was admitted to a nursing home and upon being admitted, her daughter, acting as her durable power of attorney, signed an arbitration agreement on her behalf. The agreement said that it was not necessary for admission to the nursing home and that it could be revoked within 30 days of signing. Under the agreement, any legal issues had to be addressed through alternative dispute resolution. In addition, the contract said that it was applicable to the resident and any individual whose claim was “derived through or on behalf of the resident, including any next of kin, guardian, executor, administrator, legal representative or heir of the resident” as well as anyone who executed the agreement on behalf of the resident.

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