INSIGHTS On Massachusetts Personal Injury Law

Welcome to the SUGARMAN blog. We'll be sharing our perspectives on the state of the law and current legal issues in Massachusetts personal injury law. Issues relating to medical malpractice, construction site injuries, premises liability, product liability, motor vehicle accidents, insurance, and more will all be reviewed here by our team of lawyers who have prosecuted some of the most complex cases in Massachusetts personal injury law.

Articles Posted in Personal Injury Law

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In Boston and throughout Massachusetts, commercial and recreational boating is a way of life. Not surprisingly, boating accidents are too. Lawsuits involving injuries suffered in boating accidents, often referred to as “admiralty” cases, involve various aspects of state and federal law depending on who the injured parties are and where and in what manner the boating accident occurs.  Admiralty is the body of law which regulates the carrying of passengers and cargo over water and provides remedies to individuals injured while boating.

Generally, when vessels collide causing injuries, a claim can be brought for negligence in the navigation and operation of the vessel. The test of fault for causing a collision or other harm-inducing event is whether the operator of the vessel acted as a reasonably prudent mariner at the time of the incident, under the totality of the circumstances.

Under boating or admiralty law, workers injured at sea may be entitled to benefits and compensation under the Jones Act and other federal statutes. In some circumstances, these workers have greater rights than injured workers in other areas. For instance, under traditional negligence law, an employee typically cannot bring a personal injury lawsuit against his/her employer or a co-employee. The remedy is limited to Workers’ Compensation benefits. A “seaman” (a member of a ship’s crew), however, can bring certain types of injury claims against his employer.

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By their very nature, airplane and aviation industry accidents give rise to some of the most shocking, painful and devastating tragedies imaginable. Aviation accidents are thankfully rare, but they do occur with large, commercial airlines as well as private and charter airplanes. And, of course, aviation accidents are not just limited to plane crashes and other disasters: Injuries to passengers inside planes, and events on and around the tarmac, can also give rise to serious injuries or death.

Aviation lawsuits involve complicated legal and factual issues, from establishing the cause of such accidents, to proving negligence and causation, to legal issues of what law to apply and which courts have jurisdiction.

Proving which person or company is responsible for a plane crash or other aviation accident – whether from pilot error, mechanical failure, improper maintenance, runway defect, negligently operated aviation equipment, air traffic controller error, or other cause – requires a highly specialized set of skills and expert legal representation. The attorneys at SUGARMAN are experienced in the complexities of aircraft litigation, and are among few in Massachusetts to have litigated and tried aviation cases to conclusion.

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Since SUGARMAN’s beginnings over 50 years ago in Boston, our personal injury lawyers have regularly represented people injured or killed in railroad accidents throughout Massachusetts.  Unfortunately, these accidents occur with some regularity, often due to negligence or recklessness on the part of railroad companies and their contractors.  The results can be devastating.

The litigation and trial of railroad accident cases is a specialized area of law.  Few accident lawyers in Massachusetts have more experience or success in such cases than the lawyers at SUGARMAN.  When necessary, our lawyers have taken railroad accident cases to the highest courts in Massachusetts.

Cases involving the MBTA railroad and other railroad companies are governed by a detailed, inter-related set of state and federal statutes and regulations.  These laws govern such things as speed, use of signals and horns, staffing of railroad equipment, employee hours, right of way on tracks, ownership and control of tracks and crossings, and behavior at crossings.  The laws also dictate when and how claims for personal injuries against railroad companies can be brought.

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Early in the morning of August 1, 2016, two people were tragically killed and several others were injured when a Hampton Inn shuttle bus was involved in a rear end crash while transporting passengers from Logan Airport.  A Subaru Legacy rear ended the bus as it was exiting the airport and merging onto Route 1A North.  The accident and the force of the collision resulted in two of the passengers being ejected from the bus and suffering fatal injuries.

The Massachusetts State Police has not yet revealed whether or not the deceased and injured passengers were belted in the bus at the time of the accident or how it was that the passengers were ejected from the vehicle.  The details of this accident, however, illustrate the dangers posed by shuttle buses, buses and passenger vans, which all too often are not designed with the same safety features found in every day vehicles.  From windows that break upon impact allowing for the ejection of passengers to higher propensity for rollovers to safety belts that do not incorporate shoulder harnesses or impact-absorbing headrests, these vehicles are generally more dangerous and uncrashworthy even though they are used to transport tens of millions of people on U.S. roads every day.  Most people who board a shuttle bus, such as a hotel courtesy shuttle, do not even stop to think why it is that the buses do not have safety belts or shoulder harnesses.  Such vehicles should be held to the same safety standards as all other cars on the road, or arguably even higher standards considering the number of people that rely on them for transportation.

One only needs to do a quick online search to see how often accidents such as the one in Boston turn fatal or leave occupants with catastrophic injuries.  Unfortunately, these car accidents will continue to produce tragic results unless safety improvements to these vehicles are implemented.

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The newest app craze sweeping the country is Pokemon Go, a smartphone game created by Niantic and the Pokemon Company and released over the summer.  The app uses smart phone cameras and GPS tracking, which when integrated with the app, allows you to see and “capture” the Pokemon characters in “real time” as you walk (or drive) nearly anywhere.  While hailed by many as a great way to get children, teenagers and adults alike out of the house and on their feet, the hordes of people walking through city streets, parks, buildings and busy intersections focusing on the screen instead of their surroundings are causing accidents and injuries all over the world.

To date, there are increasing reports of hospitalizations caused by the inattention of people while “catching Pokemon.”  People have tripped over things, walked into poles and trees, fallen into holes and ditches (and two men in California off of a cliff), and they have walked directly into traffic – all as a result of this game, which seems to have a “zombie-like” effect on many.

While the concern for self-injury is high, however, this new obsession also poses significant risks to the non-playing public.  Since the app works anywhere, there have been reported vehicle collisions caused by drivers suspected of Pokemon chasing while driving.  Since the proliferation of the smartphone, texting and emailing while behind the wheel has caused thousands of accidents, many fatal, and this presents yet another challenge to safe drivers on the road, as well as pedestrians, bicyclists, Pedicabs and all of the other individuals sharing the crowded city streets.  While the clear message is not to drive and play Pokemon, many people who fail to heed the advice can cause serious accidents.  Similarly, people walking distractedly into traffic have caused vehicles to collide in avoidance of the unaware pedestrian.  Injuries have also been reported as a result of pedestrians walking into other pedestrians, resulting in injuries.

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Summer is here, which means it’s time to fire up the grill and relax with friends and family by the fire pit. While barbecues and bonfires are a big part of summer, it’s important to be cautious and well aware of the dangers that the use of propane and other flammable materials present.  Accidents can be avoided, in part, by taking the following precautions:

Grill Safety

According to The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), every year emergency rooms treat approximately 17,000 people who suffer from grill-related accidents.  The NFPA also reports that 10 deaths and 8,800 house fires are also caused by improper use of grills in the United States.  Charcoal and propane/gas are the two predominant types of grills in the U.S. and both pose their own safety risks.  When using a propane or natural gas grill, the most common threat is a gas leak that is allowed to ignite.  Before you even think about turning on your grill, check your tank, hoses and all connection points to be sure the hoses are in excellent condition and there is tight point of contact between the gas and the tank.  Signs of a leak include the smell of propane and the hissing noise of gas escaping.  If you encounter either of these problems, do not light your grill or any other flammable near the area until a professional checks it out.

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April vacation is here and whether your week involves fun in the sun at a tropical destination, an exciting road trip, or just day excursions to a local park or attractions, it is important to think about keeping your family safe before you hit the road.  Here are key points to keep in mind.

On The Road Safety

Road trips are a popular vacation choice for families during school break. They can be extremely memorable experiences, but there are risks to consider when driving long distances in unfamiliar territory. Before you leave, be sure to do a maintenance check on your vehicle. Experiencing car trouble on the highway or in a new place can be dangerous to you, your family and those sharing the road. If you have items that need to be strapped down, or physically hang from the vehicle, make sure they are fully secured. If debris falls from your vehicle causing an accident and injuries, you can be held liable for the damages. Leave the phone off or let your passengers handle the phone. Not only is texting or talking on the phone a serious road hazard, it is illegal in most states in the U.S.

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Spring has finally arrived, and it’s time for one of America’s favorite pastimes to start back up after a long winter. Recent injuries and accidents have forced MLB to take further action to protect fans at the games. Over the last few years, there have been several alarming stories of fans seriously injured by foul balls, broken bats or falling over railings and protective barriers. According to a recent study by Bloomberg, there were an estimated 1,756 injuries sustained at major league ball parks in 2013 alone.

While most fans acknowledge that they are taking a risk attending sporting events, the question is are major league teams doing enough to protect their fans? MLB isn’t responsible for injuries sustained beyond the “Baseball Rule”, or screening the most dangerous areas (behind home plate), and it is up to the individual team to provide a safe environment for fans at their home stadium. However, as of late 2015, MLB has urged teams to extend the safety net behind home plate to both dugouts for fans in lower level seats; and most teams, including the Red Sox, were quick to agree to this added precaution. Despite the added measures MLB is making to keep fans safe, the onus still falls on the fans to stay alert and safe during the games. Here are some important tips to consider when going to a baseball game.

Always Stay Alert

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Over the past several years, there have been disturbing reports of exposure to blood-borne diseases such as HIV, and Hepatitis B and C after undergoing colonoscopies. The most recent of these cases was reported earlier this month at Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, Massachusetts, where 293 patients who underwent colonoscopies between June 2012 and April 2013 may have been exposed to these diseases. This exposure was due to improper sterilization of colonoscopy equipment, which had been purchased in 2012 and required a different sterilization process.

While colonoscopies are usually considered routine medical procedures, ease your mind about potential risks by asking your physician:

1. Does your facility have staff devoted to the reprocessing and disinfection of colonoscopy equipment?

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After the filing of multiple lawsuits as a result of birth defects in children of mothers who were prescribed Zofran (generically known as Ondanestron) to treat nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, a federal judicial panel created a consolidated docket for all Zofran cases in Massachusetts. The October 13, 2015 order from the Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation will transfer 12 cases and all future Zofran cases to the Massachusetts Federal District Court to be heard by Judge Dennis Saylor. For more information on Multi-District Litigation, see our former blog post.

Zofran, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, LLC, is an anti-nausea drug that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the early 90s to treat nausea and vomiting symptoms in patients undergoing chemotherapy or surgery. More recently, the drug has been extensively prescribed off label to treat nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, allegedly causing birth defects, such as cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot, and heart defects, resulting in the numerous product liability lawsuits.

Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy is the most common symptom associated with pregnant patients, with more than 80% of pregnant women experiencing these symptoms at some point during their pregnancy. According to a recent article published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG), 97.7% of prescriptions for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy in the United States are with medications not labeled for use in pregnancy, not indicated for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, and not classified as safe in pregnancy by the FDA. In recent years, the use of Zofran for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy has steadily increased, and today approximately 1 in 4 pregnant American women are exposed to Ondanestron.

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