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 Tagged with Legislation

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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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While a true New England winter has not yet set in, there are plenty of hazards to navigate on the roads, including drivers distracted by cell phones and other handheld devices. The sight of a vehicle drifting into another lane because the driver is texting, emailing, GPS-ing or reading on a cell phone has become an all-too-common sight. Drivers need to be vigilant in order to avoid collisions with distracted drivers, which cause tens of thousands of collisions each year, many of which result in death.

In 2010, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law making it illegal to “use a mobile telephone, or any handheld device capable of accessing the internet, to manually compose, send or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.” A violation of this law is punishable by a fine of $100 for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for the third or subsequent offense, but under no circumstances would the penalty be a surchargeable offense. M.G.L. ch. 90, § 13B. However, despite people breaking the law on a daily basis, it turned out to be hard to prove that the driver was actually sending or reading messages while driving without subpoenaing phone records, something not generally done to prove a simple traffic violation, without a serious injury or fatality.

A new proposed law, entitled “An Act to Prohibit the Use of Mobile Telephones While Operating a Motor Vehicle,” Bill S.2093, if passed by the legislature, will ban the use of all handheld mobile devices while driving, except to “activate, deactivate or initiate a feature or function.” Moreover, someone who is seen by police driving with a phone near his or her ear or head, is presumed to be in violation of the law, placing the burden of proof on the individual to prove he or she was not violating the law, or that it was for emergency purposes. Fines for violating the new law will remain at $100 for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for the third or subsequent offense; however, the third or subsequent offense will be considered a moving violation and could affect your insurance premiums.

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This record-setting New England winter has brought about many headaches to daily drivers, and plenty of important issues for Massachusetts personal injury attorneys to talk about. Drivers must navigate through snow and ice covered roads and meticulously around potholes that can all but swallow the front end of a vehicle; they must deal with the reduction in the number of navigable travel lanes (and therefore an increase in commuting time); and they must be aware of snow banks so high that it is nearly impossible to see pedestrians until they suddenly emerge onto the roadway (hopefully in a crosswalk). However, one hazard can be avoided if everyone does their part. It is important to clean all of the snow and ice off of your vehicle before going out onto the roadways. The consequences of failing to do so can be serious, or even deadly, as the Massachusetts State Police pointed out well before the onslaught of weekly winter storms began.

Although several bills specifically prohibiting the operation of motor vehicles with an accumulation of snow and ice have stalled in the Massachusetts Legislature (most pertaining to commercial vehicles), a driver who fails to properly clean his or her vehicle may be cited and fined under the impeded operation statute. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 90, §13 provides that “No person, when operating a motor vehicle, shall permit to be on or in the vehicle or on or about his person anything which may interfere with or impede the proper operation of the vehicle or any equipment by which the vehicle is operator or controlled.” Violations carry no criminal penalties, but fines start at $50 and increase with each offense. A driver may also face civil liability for failing to clean the snow and ice from his or her vehicle, if the snow or ice accumulation causes an accident which injures or kills someone.

Several states have enacted laws specifically prohibiting people from driving a vehicle with more than a small amount of snow or ice accumulation, including Connecticut General Statutes §14-252a, which imposes a $75.00 fine. Pennsylvania and New Hampshire each enacted laws following deaths caused by snow and ice accumulation on vehicles. Both laws impose fines of up to $1,000 for violations which cause injury or property damage to another. New Jersey’s snow and ice removal law, enacted in 2010, imposes fines of $25.00-$75.00 for benign violations, and $200-$1,000 fines for violations resulting in injury or property damage. Commercial vehicle drivers face higher fines.