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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.

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.