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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.

COVID-19 continues to sweep through Massachusetts nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. As of May 2, 2020, there are 66,263 COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, and there have been 3,846 deaths. The rate of confirmed cases per capita is the third highest in the United States, and the death rate per capita is the fourth highest in the country.

Massachusetts state officials recently began posting a list of assisted-living facilities with two or more confirmed coronavirus cases, along with nursing homes. However, it does not include an actual number of confirmed cases, but rather a range of cases. More than half of the assisted-living facilities have at least two cases. Many have 30 or more cases.

As of May 2nd, there have been 12,574 COVID-19 cases among residents and healthcare workers of long-term care facilities. Three hundred twenty long-term care facilities have reported at least one case of COVID-19 at a facility and there have been 2,284 COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities. According to these numbers, the majority of coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts have occurred in these facilities, underscoring the extent to which they are at the center of the public health crisis in Massachusetts. There are 17,000 residents in assisted-living communities across 260 facilities in the state and about 38,000 nursing home residents. Outbreaks were reported in facilities in the Boston area, including Sunrise of Arlington, Goddard House in Brookline, and The Falls at Cordingly Dam in Newton.

Under Massachusetts law, passengers who suffer injuries in a car accident may be entitled to compensation for the damages they endured. Typically, drivers who suffer injuries in a car accident may only seek compensation from other drivers and insurance companies. However, passengers seeking compensation are in a unique position because there may be more than one liable party.

Insurance companies consider passengers as third parties, and the law allows injury victims to file a claim through the driver’s personal injury protection plan or their medical payment coverage. Depending on the amount of fault, passengers may file a claim against one or both of the drivers. If the drivers do not have appropriate coverage to cover the passenger’s losses, the victim may file a claim through their insurance policy’s under/uninsured motorist benefits.

These policies compensate for medical expenses and a portion of lost wages or similar economic damages, but they do not cover pain and suffering. In most cases, passengers cannot receive costs for more than what is necessary for recovery, regardless of how many insurance companies provide coverage. However, there are some exceptions, and it is important that accident victims contact an attorney to discuss their rights and remedies in these cases.

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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Recently, a Massachusetts appeals court affirmed a lower court’s judgment in a dispute between a property owner and an insurance company. The facts indicate that the homeowner purchased insurance for a property he owned in Massachusetts. The terms of the insurance policy included an agreement that the insurance company would protect the homeowner from property damage and personal injury claims against him. However, the agreement provided an exclusion for bodily injury claims stemming from the homeowner’s properties that were not included in the policy.

The man filed a claim with his insurance company when his two children and their friends died at an uninsured cabin he owned in Maine. The property was seasonal, and was generally only used during the summer months. The man obtained a building permit for this property but did not apply for or receive an occupancy certificate. The property was “off the grid” and only had a wood stove and a microwave. The man used a generator on the property when he needed to charge his power tools. During these instances, he would sometimes power the microwave, as the generator was already in use.

On one occasion, two of his children and their two friends went to the cabin to celebrate a birthday. After they arrived, they plugged a mini refrigerator into the generator to cool their drinks. However, they did not open any windows, and they all died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The families of his children’s s friends filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the man, claiming that he was negligent for failing to teach his children how to use the generator safely. The court awarded damages to both families and, in response, the man filed a claim with his insurance company.

Bicycling is popular amongst Massachusetts residents, both as a means of transportation as well as for leisure. The state has created and fostered a sense of community amongst bicyclists by designating more bike lanes and designing laws to protect cyclists. However, despite, caution on the part of bicyclists, they are often involved in serious accidents with drivers with whom they share the road. According to the United States Department of Transportation, there have been over 500,000 bicycle injuries and 8,000 fatalities in the last ten years. Many of these serious injuries and deaths occur in heavily populated and dense urban areas, such as Boston. In many Massachusetts bicycle accident cases, the bicyclist is not at fault, and may be able to pursue a claim for compensation against the at-fault party.

Some common causes of Massachusetts bike accidents are inattentive driving, failing to provide cyclists with enough room on the road, or otherwise violating traffic laws. Further, cyclists may also suffer injuries because of defective bike parts such as faulty brakes or tires. Additionally, poor road conditions, inadequate road signs, or defective traffic control devise may result in a Massachusetts bike accident. Finally, one of the most common causes of bike injuries is from “dooring accidents.” Dooring accidents occur when a driver opens their car door onto a bike path. Massachusetts has specific statutes designed to protect against these accidents. However, despite these laws, dooring is the cause of almost 20% of all bike accidents.

These accidents can have serious and life-altering consequences for cyclists. Accident victims often suffer broken bones, soft tissue injuries, brain injuries, fractures, amputations, spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even death. For example, recently, a local Boston news report described the tragic death of a bicyclist hit by a car. According, to the attorney general’s office, three bicyclists were hit when they were riding their bikes in Ipswich. The man was airlifted to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries; the other two cyclists are still recovering.

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