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How is a Negligent Driver Held Responsible for his or her Actions in Massachusetts?

If you have been injured in a car accident, you need to know how the insurance companies determine fault in order to get the compensation you deserve.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a modified no-fault insurance state. If an individual is at least fifty percent at fault, they are responsible for some of the damages. This also means that, regardless of fault, your own insurance company will pay for your reasonable medical expenses and lost wages, up to your policy limit.

Additionally, Massachusetts law allows individuals to sue the at-fault party for non-economic damages, i.e., pain and suffering, if reasonable medical expenses exceed the threshold of $2,000. This process requires the determination of responsibility when accidents occur. Because of this, the Massachusetts Legislature has established the Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP).

SDIP utilizes a strict set of guidelines for determining fault to make sure that safe drivers receive justice. The system involves driver classifications and insurance premium adjustments based on an insured’s driving record. For example, an at-fault accident constitutes a surchargeable incident, meaning that the Massachusetts motor vehicle insurer must impose merit-rating surcharges on insured drivers who are more than fifty percent at fault in causing a motor vehicle accident.

To determine fault in a Massachusetts car accident, the SDIP uses 19 Standards of Fault. The standards create rebuttable presumptions of fault for various types of auto accidents.

The 19 Standards of Fault include:

  • Collision with a lawfully or unlawfully parked vehicle
  • Rear-end collision
  • Out-of-lane collision
  • Failure to signal
  • Failure to proceed with due caution from a traffic control signal or sign
  • Collision on the wrong side of the road
  • Operating in the wrong direction
  • Collision at an uncontrolled intersection
  • Collision while in the process of backing up
  • Collision while making a left turn or U-turn across the travel path of a vehicle traveling in the same or opposite direction
  • Leaving or exiting from a parked position, parking lot, alley or driveway
  • Opened or opening vehicle door(s)
  • Single-vehicle collision
  • Failure to obey the rules and regulations of driving
  • Unattended vehicle collision
  • Collision while merging onto a highway, or into a rotary
  • Non-contact operator causing a collision
  • Failure to yield the right of way to emergency vehicles when required by law
  • Collision at a “T” intersection

To be considered a surchargeable at-fault accident, the following requirements must be met:

  • The vehicle operator is determined to be more than fifty percent at fault according to the Standards of Fault; and
  • The vehicle involved is a private passenger automobile; and
  • The accident involves a claim payment of more than $500, in excess of any deductible; and
  • The claim payment is for “Damage to Someone Else’s Property,” “Collision,” “Bodily Injury to Others” or “Limited Collision” coverage for a vehicle subject to the Safe Driver Insurance Plan.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, you need a skilled attorney well-versed in Massachusetts auto accident law. The process of dealing with insurance companies or trying to prove fault is complex. Please call our office for a free case evaluation.

Wrongful Death Suit in Massachusetts

The heartbreak of a loved one’s death overshadows the logistical and financial stresses of providing a burial according to the deceased’s wishes; paying off residual bills; and coping with the loss of an income. In cases where a loved one’s death was caused by another’s actions, this can be especially emotionally difficult—but the law provides a remedy to the financial stress caused by a wrongful death.

In Massachusetts, a wrongful death is one caused by another party through

  • negligence
  • breach of warranty
  • conduct which is “wanton and reckless”

Excluded explicitly from these criteria are workplace deaths and deaths on or near railroads and streetcar tracks. In general, the personal representative of the decedent can file a wrongful death suit in those cases in which the departed could have filed a personal injury suit, if they had survived.

However, under the “wanton and reckless” standard, a wrongful death suit may be filed following a criminal trial, even if the defendant is not guilty. Famously, this was the case when the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman won damages against OJ Simpson as a court found him civilly liable for their deaths, even though he had been cleared of criminal responsibility for their murders.

In filing a wrongful death suit, survivors (through the estate’s personal representative) can seek financial compensation for reasonable burial expenses, counseling and other comfort expenses for the bereaved, and the lost income of the decedent. Punitive damages are only available in cases where the death was caused by gross negligence or the aforementioned “wanton and reckless” conduct.

The statute of limitations for filing the suit is three years from the date of death or from the personal representative of the estate becoming aware of the basis for a wrongful death suit.

If you have lost a loved one too soon due to someone else’s actions, you may be feeling lost. Our office wants to help you get what you and your family deserve during this difficult time. We can help tabulate the financial burden of your loved one’s death, find where the other party failed to act appropriately, and guide you through the court process. Call us today for a free consultation.

What to do if you are injured in a car accident while using a rideshare app as a passenger

The sharing economy and start-ups have brought many new and wonderful services to consumers, but sometimes the law struggles to catch up to these innovations. In the case of ridesharing platforms like Uber and Lyft, some municipalities have struggled to create regulations and taxes on individual drivers or on the rideshare companies. Ensuring passenger safety with thorough background checks on potential drivers and with swift penalties for those who take advantage of passengers has also been a challenge, one left primarily in the hands of ridesharing apps.

One area where the law remains clear with regard to rideshare drivers and their passengers is the imposition of liability for motor vehicle accidents. While the law is certain and established on this point, treating an incident with a rideshare vehicle like any other collision, the newness of these apps might lead to some confusion for injured passengers seeking their rightful compensation. Read on to learn what you should do, if you are involved in a car accident as a rideshare passenger.

When an accident occurs, you should remain as calm as possible. If you are able, assist others who might not be able to assist themselves due to injury or preexisting disability. Do not leave the scene without getting the usual identity and insurance information of all drivers involved; if there are witnesses, such as other passengers or passers-by, try to get their information as well. As soon as you are in a safe place, and have had proper medical attention—as discussed below—you should also notify the rideshare service of the accident, preferably in writing.

Even if you do not feel injured immediately following the crash, you should seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible, preferably soon after leaving the accident scene. Many injuries are difficult to detect until after your adrenaline has worn off. For both medical and legal reasons, delaying treatment cannot only lead to longer healing times and worse health outcomes, but delayed treatment makes it easier for an insurance company to argue that your injuries were not the result of the accident.

As mentioned above, assigning liability is one area of law that has not had to adapt to the new rideshare apps. As a passenger, you are mostly immune from liability, regardless of the other circumstances of the accident. This is why many people turn to rideshare apps such as Uber or Lyft when they need a designated driver; companies and organizations even arrange discounted rides with rideshares for their social events to limit their liability.

If your rideshare driver is at-fault, your first option is to seek compensation through the driver’s personal insurance policy. However, unless the driver has a commercial policy or a special clause in their personal auto policy, accidents that occurred during rideshares are most likely not covered. You would then pursue a claim against the ridesharing company’s policy; such policies often cover up to a million dollars in loss from a single incident.

If a driver other than the one operating your rideshare vehicle is at fault, you may pursue a claim against his or her insurance policy.

Car accidents can be terrifying, life-changing, or—if you are lucky to avoid major injury—an unnecessary annoyance in the midst of your busy life. Having the right lawyer as partner can help you recoup losses, pay for medical treatment, and put an unwelcome chapter in your life behind you. Whether you have been injured as a rideshare passenger or under other circumstances, call our office today to discuss your options.

My mother slipped while walking through an icy mall parking lot and broke her arm. Who is responsible for her injury?

Slip and fall accidents are common when weather conditions are wet and icy. As a Massachusetts resident, there are a few things to consider, if you’re contemplating filing a personal injury claim after a slip and fall on snow or ice in a public place.

When it comes to maintaining the safety of public areas, such as parking lots or sidewalks, the property owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care. This is a legal duty, and breach of that duty can result in liability for negligence. The periodic inspection of the property and the removal or remediation of snow and ice within a reasonable time is the duty of property owners to reduce the risk of falls and injuries.

However, while the duty to maintain the safety of property is the responsibility of the property owner, members of the public also have a duty to exercise reasonable care when walking in an area they know will be wet or icy. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts no longer follows the “natural accumulation” rule, which relieved a property owner of liability in connection with the natural accumulation of snow and ice. Currently, landlords and property owners are held to a higher standard.

But Massachusetts residents should be aware that numerous laws regarding snow and ice removal and liability, can add complications to personal injury claims. Injury claims due to negligent conditions are allowed by law. However, there is no standard for what qualifies as a reasonable time to complete a cleanup.

Talk to one of our experienced personal injury lawyers to learn more about the property rules where you live, and how they might affect your case.

Arbitrator Reverses Suspension of New Bedford Police Officer

RJA Attorney Andrew Gambaccini recently secured an arbitrator’s reversal of a three day suspension that was imposed upon a New Bedford police officer based upon an allegation that the officer improperly failed to document the disposal of an arrestee’s property.

By way of background, the officer had arrested an individual for various offenses, including the possession of a knife of illegal length. After the arrest, the officer transported the arrestee to the police station for booking. In New Bedford, once an individual has completed the booking procedure, that person is not held at the police station but instead is transported to the Ash Street Jail. Items of personal property belonging to the arrestee accompany the arrestee to the Ash Street Jail in a clear plastic property bag that has attached to it an inventory form listing the items within the bag. The Jail, however, does not accept all personal property items and, for example, will not accept perishable food items or any item that could be used as a weapon.

In this case, when the individual was arrested he had a number of items in his possession, including money, pepper spray as well as bread and fish in a grocery bag. According to the Jail’s intake rules, the pepper spray and food items could not accompany the arrestee to the Jail. Knowing that the items could not go to the Ash Street Jail, the officer asked the arrestee whether he wanted the items to be held at the New Bedford Police Department so that the arrestee later could return to pick them up or if the arrestee wanted the items disposed of; the arrestee indicated that the items could be thrown away because he did not want to return for them. The officer threw the items away but made no notation in the arrest report or the prisoner property inventory form that he had done so.

Learning of the disposal of the property later, the City imposed a three day suspension upon the officer. Specifically, the City claimed that there was an order of the Department that required the officer to document the disposal of the arrestee’s property.

The suspension was appealed to an arbitrator. At the hearing, RJA argued that the order at issue contained no such documentation requirement for property items such as pepper spray and groceries. While there was an elaborate procedure set out in the order relating to the handling and documentation of tobacco products, items that also are not accepted at the Jail, because the items in this case were not tobacco products, that portion of the order was inapplicable. RJA further argued that, while the Department was free to create a policy directing officers on this topic, the Department’s existing policy was insufficient and the Department was not permitted to discipline an officer based upon claimed requirements that were not clearly set out and communicated to members of the Department. RJA lastly argued that the Department had delayed acting to discipline the officer for months and, without adequate explanation, a failure to act diligently in taking disciplinary steps violated just cause principles.

The arbitrator agreed with all of RJA’s arguments in her award. She concluded that the order in fact did not cover the type of property at issue in this case and that, while the Department could create a policy to explain what it expected of officers in terms of documenting the disposal of property, the Department had failed to create such a clear and unambiguous policy to date. The arbitrator further determined that it was improper for the Department to have waited months to impose the suspension on the officer. Based upon those determinations, the arbitrator reversed the suspension, awarded the officer his back pay and lost benefits arising out of the wrongful suspension and ordered that the record of discipline be expunged from the officer’s files.

The Dangers of Falling Snow and Ice

As the weather gets colder in New England, many people are already carrying out winterization measures to protect their homes and businesses. Road salt purchased, shovels dug out of garages, and tires swapped out. All this attention paid—and rightfully so—to the hazards of traveling on foot or by car through a winter wonderland. However, paying attention to snow on the ground should not come at the expense of preparing for snow on roofs and eaves, which poses an entirely different set of risks to guests, neighbors, customers, and all pedestrians.

While slip-and-fall, or slip-and-crash, accidents immediately come to mind as common winter hazards, falling ice and snow from roofs can also cause serious injury to the unsuspecting traveler. Serious head, neck and back injuries, including severe concussions, can result from a snowpack sliding off a steep roof and onto an unlucky passerby. Along with the possibility of a concussion and neck injuries, if the passerby is knocked off his or her feet, there might also be injuries typical of a slip-and-fall accident.

If a sliding snowpack is heavy enough, or includes a hefty chunk of ice, it may very well knock the person unconscious or cause deep lacerations. Even a small amount of falling snow and ice from a sign, building ledge, or scaffolding can cause serious bodily damage and long term injury.

In general, the responsibility for keeping roofs reasonably clear, or marking off potential “falling ice” areas as a warning to pedestrians, falls to the party also responsible for clearing walkways and driveways of snow. Homeowners bear full responsibility and liability, as do people renting houses or other single-family options. For triple-deckers and larger multi-family units, the responsibility falls to the landlord. The same general principles apply to a business—a freestanding business takes responsibility for property maintenance, while one inside a strip mall or shopping center passes that responsibility onto the property owner or manager.

Unfortunately, not all business owners or landlords take care of this winter maintenance task. As a result, pedestrians, tenants, and customers are unknowingly put at risk, with serious injuries resulting. In a worst-case scenario, a landlord or business owner’s refusal to remove snow and ice from above can lead to long term injuries and even death.

If you have been injured by falling ice as the result of someone else’s negligence, call our office today to discuss your case and learn your options.

How does insurance coverage differ when a motorcycle is involved?

Massachusetts motor vehicle laws and insurance coverage requirements for vehicle owners and motorcyclists vary. It’s essential to understand your coverage before an accident occurs so you can be prepared for unforeseen incidents. After all, that’s why you have coverage in the first place.

Everyone is required by law to have a specific minimum coverage for a vehicle to be lawfully on the road. One component of this coverage is called Personal Injury Protection(PIP) benefits. These are no-fault benefits for medical bills and lost wages; no-fault meaning the insurance company pays them regardless of your fault in the accident.

However, it’s vital to understand that motor vehicle Personal Injury Protection benefits are not available to motorcyclists. Even if you are willing to pay for this benefit as a motorcyclist, it is not an option. This is why it’s so important to talk with your insurance agent to go over different potential scenarios so you make sure that you have the proper coverage in place.

The biggest mistake motorcyclists make is to assume the right coverage is in place. Do not wait until an accident occurs, and medical bills begin accumulating, to verify your coverage.

When insuring a motorcycle, the first step is to get the right coverage. Anyone who owns or operates a motorcycle should talk to their insurance agent about medical payments coverage. This will protect motorcyclists who are injured in a motorcycle collision, whether it’s with a motor vehicle or some other object. This form of coverage pays for medical bills or treatments.

While we’re all required to have some form of health insurance, the added layer of protection from medical payments coverage will go a long way to pay for medical bills and treatment. This is particularly true in Massachusetts, where coverage is heavily regulated, and you’re obligated to have medical bills from a car or motorcycle accident processed a certain way. This is why you want to have answers regarding your coverage before there’s an incident.

If you’re a motorcyclist involved in an accident with a car, who pays your medical bills, because PIP benefits are unavailable to you?

The motorcyclist’s health insurance ideally covers medical bills while the insurance of the at-fault vehicle is responsible for compensation for pain and suffering and loss of future earning capacity. However, if the motorcyclist is struck by a vehicle that doesn’t have enough insurance coverage, the motorcycle driver may be left covering unpaid expenses.

One option to protect against this situation is to seek higher limits for uninsured/underinsured bodily injury coverage. This will allow motorcyclists to have an extra layer of protection, if the vehicle that strikes them does not have enough insurance coverage.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a motorcycle accident, our team of lawyers is here to help. Give our office a call to explore your legal options.

Joyce, Vigliotti And Gambaccini Named Super Lawyers For 2019

The Worcester, Massachusetts law firm of Reardon, Joyce & Akerson, P.C. announces that three of its attorneys, Austin Joyce, John Vigliotti and Andrew Gambaccini, have been selected as Super Lawyers for 2019 by Super Lawyers Magazine.

Austin Joyce, the firm’s senior attorney, has been practicing law since 1979.

John Vigliotti receives the award for the fifth time, one for each year he has been eligible. Prior to being named a Super Lawyer, Vigliotti twice was named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers Magazine.

Andrew Gambaccini receives the honor for the third time in his third year of eligibility. Previously, Gambaccini was named a Rising Star in eight years by Super Lawyers Magazine.

Each year, no more than five percent of the lawyers in Massachusetts are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive this honor. Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters business, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a rigorous multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area.

Deputy sues Dracut manager

Chartrand says Duggan ruined his police career
By: Amaris Castillo | Lowell Sun

DRACUT — A long-simmering feud between Town Manager Jim Duggan and Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand has spilled over into federal court.

Chartrand on July 17 filed a civil-rights lawsuit against Duggan, seeking redress for “the unlawful and unconstitutional targeted bullying and retaliatory misconduct” of the town manager, according to the suit. Chartrand, who is represented by attorney Andrew Gambaccini, is demanding a trial by jury and seeking $1.8 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

The 50-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of the District of Massachusetts details the tangled history between both men and other town officials.

“Using the authority of his office, Duggan unlawfully has taken adverse actions against Chartrand and has retaliated against Chartrand, including through workplace bullying and harassment, the initiation of meritless disciplinary proceedings and the stripping away of Chartrand’s job duties,” the complaint reads. “This calculated campaign was designed by Duggan to injure Chartrand, his career and his reputation.”

Duggan on Friday said he had not received a notice of the lawsuit. He declined to comment and said any litigation is always referred to town counsel.

“I can’t comment on pending litigation as town counsel, and I have not read the complaint because it hasn’t been served in the town,” Town Counsel James. A. Hall said when reached Friday night.

“Having said that, I’ve known Manager Duggan for decades, and I know that he’s incapable of violating anyone’s civil rights,” Hall continued. “On a personal note, I’m disappointed that Deputy Chartrand would file a lawsuit against the town of Dracut. He is a lifelong resident of Dracut, a graduate of Dracut High School, and has been employed as a police officer in the town for over 25 years. I’m saddened that he would sue his fellow citizens of the town of Dracut for $1.8 million.”

Chartrand in 2016 was suspended for two weeks without pay, following a civil service inquiry into his handling of documents in a Dracut lieutenant’s personnel file. Then-Police Lt. Michael Fleury had accused Chartrand of improperly releasing a letter in his personnel file to The Sun.

Chartrand appealed the town’s decision. Late last year, the state’s Civil Service Commission ruled 3-2 in his favor. The commission hears and decides appeals on matters such as discipline filed by certain state and municipal employees and candidates for positions covered by the civil service law.

The majority opinion by three commissioners was that Chartrand’s appeal be allowed in part and that his 10-day suspension be modified and reduced to a written reprimand.

In response, Duggan wrote that, although the original suspension imposed has been modified to a written reprimand, the Commission still ruled that Chartrand’s conduct in deliberately disregarding the rights of a fellow superior officer warranted discipline. “The written reprimand will be a permanent record of Deputy Chartrand’s personnel file,” Duggan said in an emailed statement to The Sun.

This suspension, and much more, is included in the lawsuit.

Chartrand on Friday said there have been numerous actions taken against him that were unjustified. He said he believed they were for personal reasons.

“Because of those, it’s done irreparable harm to myself, my family,” Chartrand told The Sun. “I served this community for many, many years. I’ve done the very best job I possibly can. Because of what’s happened, essentially my career is over.”

Below are a few of the complaints charged against Duggan, according to the lawsuit:

• Several years ago, the town hired Municipal Resources Inc., a New Hampshire consultancy, to conduct an investigation into the Dracut Police Department. According to the lawsuit filed last week, Chartrand after reading the audit report was taken aback by what he believed to be the “personal and false subjective attack” it represented upon both him and then-Police Chief Kevin Richardson. The lawsuit states that Chartrand told Duggan he could not believe the report’s content and believed work should begin on an immediate rebuttal.

“Duggan responded to Chartrand by stating that the report was a ‘done deal’ and that, while he did not know Chartrand’s plans, if Chartrand wanted to look for work elsewhere, Duggan said that he would provide Chartrand with a recommendation that ignored the MRI material,” the suit reads.

According to the complaint, this was a “thinly veiled threatening, intimidating and coercive message for Chartrand as to Duggan’s intentions.” The suit claims Duggan did not want Chartrand to be in the department any longer.

• Duggan’s reorganization of the Police Department entailed the creation of an additional Deputy Chief position and, according to the lawsuit, the move was designed to impact Chartrand adversely.

• According to the lawsuit, Duggan has interviewed candidates for promotion within the agency and has explained to them that he expects loyalty if they are promoted. Furthermore, the suit claims, Duggan had indicated to those persons that he expects they will not be drinking Chartrand’s “Kool-Aid.”

The lawsuit also touches on the difficult history between Chartrand and Selectman Tony Archinski, who retired from the Police Department in 2008. Though Archinski is not a defendant in the lawsuit, he is mentioned early on, throughout several pages.

According to the court document, Archinski was angry because Chartrand was chosen as deputy chief. After Duggan was hired as town manager, the suit claims Duggan and Archinski developed and maintained a symbiotic relationship in which the selectman has become a blind supporter of Duggan. It also charges Duggan with carrying “Archinski’s water” and taking steps to achieve “Archinski’s desire to go after Chartrand.”

Archinski on Friday said he had not read the lawsuit.

“I have not spoken to David Chartrand since I retired 11 years ago and I have not spoken about him in a very long time. I don’t recall the last time I even had a conversation with the town manager about David Chartrand,” Archinski said.

Archinski said he and Chartrand did not have a good relationship during his time in the Police Department and added that he put it all behind him when he retired.

“I think that Chartand has always felt that I had it out for him, but I have definitely put that behind me years ago,” Archinski said. “There are much more important things to do in my life than worry about what David Chartrand does or thinks.”

In response to Archinski’s comments, Chartrand had this to say on Friday: “I’d like to thank him for yet again publicly speaking about the animosity he’s had towards me.”

Chartrand’s attorney Andrew Gambaccini on Friday said they are looking forward to the opportunity to question Duggan under oath.

I was leaving the construction site after a day’s work and was struck by falling debris causing injury. Do I have a workman’s comp claim?

Workers’ compensation is a benefit used by states to compensate employees when they are injured at work. Massachusetts, the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) oversees the workers’ compensation system.

You are entitled to file for workers compensation benefits, if you suffer a work-related injury or illness, or are a dependent of a worker killed on the job. Employers must display the name and address of its Workers’ Compensation insurer and mandated policy information.

To qualify for workers’ comp benefits, you must have a work-related injury or illness causing disability for five full or partial calendar days. However, the days do not need to be consecutive. Injuries need to be reported to your employer, who is then required to file the Employer’s First Report of Injury or Fatality (Form 101) with the insurer.

In the event your employer does not send the Form to the insurer within 30 days of your injury, you need to report your injury in writing to the insurance company yourself. Keep documentation of when and how the injury occurred and all records related to the injury such as medical visits.

Employers or insurers do not dispute most injured worker claims, but, in the event your claim is disputed, having legal counsel to protect your rights and interests is highly recommended due to the complex nature of the workers’ compensation law.