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Know The Legal Steps To Take After A Wrongful Death Caused By An Auto Accident

Struggling with the loss of a loved one is never easy. Figuring out the legal steps when dealing with a wrongful death due to an auto accident is difficult, which is why we’re here to help ease this troubling time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are more than 32,367 fatalities annually as a result of car crashes. Such collisions often result from the negligence of another person.

Many drivers falsely believe that car accidents are always “accidental” and are something unfortunate that just happens. From the carelessness of another driver, the negligence of a company that has hired the driver, or the negligence of the company that manufactured the vehicle or its parts, there are many reasons leading to fatal auto accidents.

Who Is At Fault

The first step is to determine who is at fault. This can be a difficult and complex process. Massachusetts has a rule of law called joint and several liability. This means that you can sue multiple parties to recover damages. When multiple people are at fault for a wrongful death claim in Massachusetts, you can recover 100% of your damages against one or all of those defendants.

As a defendant of a wrongful death claim, you could be paying more than your proportionate share of the damages under Massachusetts law. This means it’s the defendant’s responsibility to pursue other defendants for reimbursement.

Determining Damages

When assessing damages in a wrongful death case, you’re entitled to a broader range of damages than in your standard personal injury case.

When a person is hospitalized following the accident, this is considered a period of pain and suffering, and it can be included as part of the damages. A forensic accountant can determine the loss of future earning capacity. Other damages that you may recover include funeral expenses, loss of consortium, and punitive damages.

When To Get Legal Advice

It’s important to talk with an attorney immediately after the incident or the loss of a loved one. Gathering information on what happened and how it happened, as well as having the documents available to calculate recoverable damages, can be a lengthy process. Additionally, experts may be needed to quantify and calculate damages.

Seeking legal advice may not be a top priority when grieving the loss of a loved one. However, the sooner that your attorneys can get involved, the sooner they can determine and assess the damages to present to the at-fault party.

If you or a loved one has experienced a wrongful death caused by an auto accident, our office is well-equipped to help you handle your Massachusetts wrongful death claim by ensuring no stone goes unturned in pursuit of damages.

Rear-end collisions and the rush to settle

Rear-end collisions are not uncommon, but they are not simple or routine. Repeat after me: there is no such thing as a “simple” rear-end collision. Again, there is no such thing as a “routine” rear-end collision.

Rear-end collisions come on a sliding scale, ranging from the annoying to the frightening to the downright devastating. A long-haul trucker whose brakes fail at an off-ramp can total cars, wreck bodies, and take lives. On the other hand, a distracted driver letting his foot off the brake in snail’s-pace traffic will probably result in a dinged bumper and frayed nerves. What rear-end collisions often have in common is insurance companies’ haste in settling. Why could this be?

Liability in rear-end collisions is clear: whoever was in the second, following car assumes liability. This is true across the board: if someone slams on the brakes on the highway, going from sixty to zero, without warning, the driver of the following car is held liable for not maintaining “a safe following distance.” Without the need for much investigation to establish liability, there seems to be a reasonable explanation for why a settlement could be quickly reached.

Not so fast—insurance companies, whether representing the at-fault party or not, are for-profit entities that are not necessarily concerned with a just settlement. Often, a fast settlement is a way of foreclosing the possibility of greater damages being paid out later.

In the case of a catastrophic collision, like the hypothetical eighteen-wheeler mentioned above, expediting the settlement process may be to the benefit of the at-fault party’s insurer for a number of reasons. Accepting a settlement typically involves a signed agreement by the injured party not to seek further compensation. This could mean accepting payment before the full extent of injuries is known and then having no further recourse to the civil courts to pay mounting medical bills. Additionally, limiting the period of discovery prevents the uncovering of key evidence that could extend the circle of liability, such as proof of shoddy maintenance by the trucking company that makes them at-fault as well.

For less-catastrophic accidents, like the fender-bender in traffic, there is still a strong profit motive for insurance companies to settle quickly. Again, the full extent of injuries, such as whiplash, may take weeks to months to become known. Additionally, while fender-bender rear-end collisions may be “an annoyance” they are never “just” an annoyance. Days without a car, paying for a rental, worrying about a big road trip or family event that was scheduled for just a few days after the collision—all of these are stresses and anxieties that the injured party deserves compensation for and for which the at-fault party’s insurance does not want to pay.

No matter its scale, accidents are always nerve-wracking and stressful, to a greater or lesser degree. While you are emotionally vulnerable, you may be inclined to “get it over with” and accept the first settlement offered. Don’t let insurance companies take advantage of you when you are in a difficult place in the aftermath of an accident: call our office today to discuss your options.

My husband was in a fatal accident, can I file a wrongful death claim?

Under Massachusetts law, a person or company may be liable for wrongful death, if the death of another is caused by (1) negligence, or failing to exercise reasonable care, (2) a “wanton or reckless act,” or (3) a breach of warranty.

In order to bring forward a wrongful death claim, the surviving individual must have suffered damages due to the untimely death of another. Precisely who those survivors can be varies from state to state. Massachusetts requires “the executor or administrator of the deceased” to file a wrongful death claim in court. This refers to the person responsible for following any instructions left in the deceased person’s will or for paying the deceased person’s final debts.  This person is now called a “personal representative” and he or she can file a claim on behalf of the surviving individual(s).

A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit, which differs from a criminal case. This means it must be filed by the personal representative directly, and any liability is expressed solely in terms of monetary damages.

A Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit may compensate damages for the following reasons:

  1. The loss of the deceased person’s expected income.
  2. The loss of care, companionship, comfort, guidance, and nurturing the deceased would have provided to family members.
  3. The medical treatment costs that the deceased victim incurred as a result of the injury prior to death.
  4. Reasonable funeral and burial expenses.

If you have suffered a loss due to wrongful death, our office is here to help. The process of filing a wrongful death claim can be complicated, but we’ll be with you every step of the way.

Federal Judge Finds In Favor Of Members Of Worcester Police Department SWAT Team

In August, 2015, the Massachusetts State Police secured a search warrant for an apartment in Worcester; that warrant was based upon information received from a confidential informant that dangerous individuals had been observed in the residence and that firearms also were present in the apartment.  The combination of dangerous individuals with access to firearms made the warrant a high risk endeavor, so the State Police contacted the Worcester Police Department in order to request that the Worcester Police Department SWAT team make entry into the residence so that the search warrant could be executed by the State Police.

The plaintiffs lived in the apartment at the time of the warrant execution.  According to them, there were no weapons in the apartment and, while one of the targets of the warrant previously lived in the apartment, he had moved months earlier.  The plaintiffs claimed that they were guilty of no wrongdoing and that their civil rights were violated when law enforcement officials broke open their door and entered the apartment with guns drawn in the early morning hours.  The plaintiffs contended that they were treated harshly and improperly by law enforcement, including having guns pointed at them, having profanities uttered at them and, for some plaintiffs, having been handcuffed until the residence was secured.

RJA Attorney Andrew Gambaccini represented four members of the Worcester Police Department, one detective and three members of the SWAT team, in connection with the civil rights lawsuit in federal court.  All claims against the detective were rejected on a motion to dismiss shortly after the filing of the action.  The claims against the SWAT team members proceeded through discovery, after which point a dispositive motion for summary judgment was filed on behalf of those SWAT team members.

In a ruling issued on October 1, 2019, federal Judge Timothy Hillman granted the SWAT team members’ motion for summary judgment, ruling that the SWAT team members were authorized to make entry into the residence based upon a facially valid search warrant and that the actions of the SWAT team within the apartment, including the pointing of weapons and the handcuffing of plaintiffs, were appropriate, lawful and did not violate the rights of any of the plaintiffs.  All of the civil rights and tort claims made by the plaintiffs against the defendants consequently were dismissed prior to trial.

I was injured as a passenger of an Uber driver, who is responsible for damages?

If you’re injured in a ride-sharing vehicle, such as Uber or Lyft, you have a right to get compensation for your injuries and other damages.

Financial responsibility typically falls on the insurance company of the at-fault driver, which may be the ride-sharing company’s driver or another driver involved in the accident who caused the crash.

The ride-sharing driver’s car insurance coverage will apply to passenger injuries only, if the driver has a commercial insurance policy or a personal car insurance policy with a special provision providing coverage while engaged as a ride-sharing driver. However, many ride-share drivers do not have such coverage. Additionally, personal car insurance policy usually has a “business use exception” that won’t cover damages and injuries that occur while the insured is acting as a for-profit driver.

If the driver’s insurance will not cover passenger injury, Uber and Lyft carry third party liability insurance coverage, which pays up to $1 million for personal injuries and property damage per accident. The third-party liability insurance will only cover costs when the ride-sharing driver is at fault for the accident; the ride-sharing driver’s own insurance has been exhausted; or the responsible driver is unknown, doesn’t have car insurance, or doesn’t have enough car insurance to pay for your injuries.

If the above insurance policies do not fully compensate you, or the insurance companies refuse to pay out, you can try going after the ride-sharing company itself. However, this should be considered a last resort option.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident and specifically while riding in an Uber or Lyft, contact us immediately to discuss your options.

I was bitten by a neighbor’s dog a year ago, can I file a personal injury lawsuit now?

Each state has a law that sets a deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit in the state’s civil court system after an accident. This law is called the “statute of limitations,” and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts gives you three years to file a personal injury lawsuit.

The three-year time limit typically starts on the day of the accident, which would be the case in the event of a dog bite. If you don’t get your lawsuit filed within three years, you may lose your right to have a court hear your injury case.

Many states have a “one bite rule” where dog owners are protected (to some degree) from liability the first time their dog injures someone, if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. In Massachusetts, however, a specific statute makes the owner “strictly liable.”

In strict-liability states, regardless of the animal’s past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog. The dog bite statute holds the defendant liable, if the plaintiff was legally allowed to be where he was when the bite occurred, and the plaintiff did not provoke the dog at the time of the dog bite. Turn to public liability insurance policies, provided by constructaquote.com

If you have questions regarding a personal injury case, contact our office today,

Discrimination Claims Against Waltham Police Lieutenant Rejected By The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination

In this case, the complainant, a female dispatcher with the City of Waltham, filed a lengthy charge of discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“the MCAD”) alleging that she was the victim of sexual harassment and a sexually hostile work environment, and also that she was subjected to gender discrimination, disability discrimination (arising out of severe chemical sensitivities) and illegal retaliation by a police lieutenant and others.

After the filing of the charge of discrimination, RJA Attorney Andrew Gambaccini filed with the MCAD on behalf of the named police lieutenant a seventy-eight page response that detailed the complainant’s employment history with the City and that also carefully explained why the complainant’s claims were bogus and fabricated. In particular, as to the disability discrimination claim, the response explained and supported with evidence the consistent and appropriate steps that were taken to accommodate the complainant’s needs and requests concerning her disability.

On April 27, 2019, the MCAD issued its determination on the complaint. The MCAD dismissed the complainant’s charge of discrimination on each and every claim, finding no probable cause existed to support any of the complainant’s various theories of liability.

I sustained a serious injury while working out at my gym. Is the gym liable?

Gym injuries are common, especially minor sprains and pulled muscles. If your own carelessness contributed to the incident, the gym may not be liable. However, when malfunctioning equipment or employee negligence causes an injury, you may have a personal injury case.

Gyms are responsible for maintaining a reasonably safe workout environment. The gym should clean equipment regularly and maintain it properly. If you sustain an injury by slipping on a wet floor, by improperly kept equipment, or by catching a serious illness, such as a staph infection, from unsanitary equipment, then the gym may be liable to you for that injury.

Equipment manufacturers and other gym-goers can also be liable for your injuries. If someone else intentionally or carelessly injures you at the gym (for example, a free weight user drops a weight, and it hits you), they may be responsible for any injuries you sustain. Similarly, if you sustain an injury due to a faulty or improperly documented workout machine, you may have a case against the equipment manufacturer.

When joining a gym, it’s important to read the liability waiver and ask questions. While many gym members think that a liability waiver means they cannot pursue legal action against a gym, that is not always true. While a liability waiver may prevent you from taking specific actions, it does not fully protect gyms from personal injury liability.

Depending on the incident, you may have an opportunity to challenge the validity of a waiver. Keep in mind that no waiver protects a gym establishment from liability for intentional or grossly negligent acts. If you sustain an injury due to no fault of your own while on gym property, consider talking to a personal injury attorney.

My neighbor allows her dog to run loose. While walking my own dog, the neighbor’s bit me. What recourse do I have under the law?

An aggressive dog is a menace to the neighborhood and, potentially, a source of great legal trouble for the owner. In Massachusetts, a dog and its owner are not granted any leniency in terms of civil liability, even if this is the first occasion on which the dog has bitten someone. Additionally, since Massachusetts is a “strict liability” state, even if a dog is restrained or an owner otherwise takes “reasonable precautions,” the owner may still be liable.

If you plan on filing a claim or a lawsuit, be sure to take pictures of your injuries and bring documentation from your doctor. If you’ve previously taken pictures of the dog running loose, that is also helpful. There may be additional, local ordinances against unleashed dogs that come into play. An experienced personal injury attorney, such as one of our partners, will be able to assess the individual circumstances of a dog attack. All this assumes, however, that neither you nor your own dog did anything to provoke the neighbor’s animal. The law waives liability for the owner of a dog, if the victim of the bite was trespassing or in any way harassing or tormenting the dog.

Call our office today to discuss your options for compensation following a dog bite or another injury.

I recently discovered toxic mold in my apartment. Am I allowed to withhold rent until the mold is removed?

Landlords are urged to take mold seriously under Massachusetts law. Long term exposure to black mold is potentially harmful to health and may cause a wide range of symptoms and consequences, specially for people with lung diseases or weakened immune systems.

Regardless of the provisions of a written lease agreement, landlords in Massachusetts are bound by “implied warranty of habitability.” This legal doctrine requires the landlord to provide tenants with apartments in livable condition. Tenants in Massachusetts have the right to pursue two common legal self-help strategies.

The first, known as “rent withholding,” is when tenants stop paying rent, claiming the mold has made their apartment uninhabitable. The second strategy, known as “repair and deduct,” involves tenants taking care of mold cleanup or a pest control issue will be taken care on their own and then subtracting the cost from their rent.

Several conditions need to be met under Massachusetts law for these options to be legal. For example, most rent withholding laws do not permit you to withhold rent, if you are behind in the rent or in violation of a relevant lease clause. You  also must report the problem and give your landlord a reasonable opportunity to fix the issue. Additionally, the problem must be severe, not just annoying, and must imperil your health or safety.

Tenants who believe they have been harmed by the presence of high concentrations of mold in their apartment can try to recover damages from their landlord in court to compensate them for their loss. For help regarding harmful mold, give our legal team a call.