December 22, 2014

Somerville, Cambridge and Boston Are Among the Top U.S. Cities for Bike Commuters, Report Says

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The City of Somerville will finish 2014 out front among cyclists. But Cambridge, Boston and Newton are close behind.

The League of American Bicyclists recently recognized Somerville as the Top Bike Commute City in the East. In Somerville, 7.8 percent of people now commute by bike, a larger share than anywhere in the East, including New York City or Philadelphia. In Massachusetts, Cambridge, Boston and Newton also made the Top 20 list.

The League of American Bicyclists' calculated the figures based on U.S. Census Bureau Statistics, taking into account a city's population and number of cyclists. The League of American Bicyclists concentrates on counting everyday bike commuters who ride as their primary mode of transportation, not those who only commute a few days a week or those who ride bikes to other transit.

Nationwide, Somerville reported the fifth highest share of bike commuters. Davis, California had the largest share, with 24.5 percent. Boulder, Colorado was second with 11 percent.

In the East, Cambridge came in a close second to Somerville, counting nearly 6.5 percent of residents as bike commuters. Combined, the two neighboring cities have a population of 186,090 and 7,467 bike commuters.

Still Boston is the larger city, with nearly 645,000 residents, and has the highest number of actual bike commuters in the region. It was listed seventh on the American League of Bicyclists' list, with nearly 2 percent of residents counted as bike commuters. This works out to roughly 6,660 people. Among U.S. cities, Boston is the ninth fastest growing spot for cycling, with commuters up 122 percent from 1990 to 2013.

Cycling is also growing across Massachusetts. The number of people commuting by bike here has increased over 100 percent since 2005, compared to 46 percent for the average U.S. state. We are eager to see what 2015 brings.

Cycle Tracks For Somerville, Cambridge and Boston
We expect to learn a lot more about cycle tracks in 2015. Boston and Cambridge both have cycle tracks, which go a step beyond traditional bike lanes and separate cyclists from traffic with curbing, shrubbery or flexposts. Many bike advocacy groups see these as a critical tool in reducing bike accidents and injuries.

Somerville is planning cycle tracks along Beacon Street, through to the Cambridge border. In recent years, the state Department of Transportation has reported the highest number of bicycle accidents in Massachusetts in this area.

Cambridge was one of the first communities in the country to build a cycle track and now has one on Vassar Street and Concord Avenue from the Alewife Brook Parkway to Blanchard Road. The recent Western Avenue reconstruction project plans also incorporated a cycle track, as well as special bicycle traffic signals.

Boston built cycle tracks on Western Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue. The city's 5-year action plan calls for the construction of 21 miles of cycle tracks. High priority areas include the streets around the Boston Public Garden, Boylston Street in Back Bay and Malcolm X Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue in Roxbury.

Hubway. We are always watching to see what comes out of Hubway. The City of Boston launched the popular bike share program in July 2011 and each year it has expanded and gotten residents, workers and visitors excited about cycling (and encouraged bike helmet use, which is important). The program now has 1300 bikes at 140 stations in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge and Brookline, more than doubling its original size in just a few years. Many stations have closed down for the winter, except in Cambridge. But we will watch for the bike program next Spring.

Boston Truck Ordinance. A few weeks ago, the Boston City Council approved a truck safety ordinance requiring city-contracted trucks to be outfitted with side guards, convex mirrors and blind-spot awareness decals. This first-in-the-nation measure was passed to reduce pedestrian and cycling accidents. Many locally and nationally are watching as the city begins enforcement.

Community Bike Programs. Boston has an active network of cycling groups and committees. If you are a cyclist, we encourage you to seek one out in 2015 or attend an event at Bay State Bike Week in the spring. Here is a list.

Bike Helmet Donations. Watch for us in 2015 too. Breakstone, White & Gluck will again partner with local organizations and committees to donate bike helmets to local children. In 2014 we donated over 2,000 helmets to kids and programs around the state. 2015 will be our third year of making these donations through Project KidSafe, our community service program. Read about our partners.

Related:
"Where We Ride," American League of Bicyclists.

Continue reading "Somerville, Cambridge and Boston Are Among the Top U.S. Cities for Bike Commuters, Report Says" »

December 8, 2014

Make Sure Not to Buy from the "10 Worst Toys" of 2014 List

Before you shop, please check out the Worst Toys of 2014 list by W.A.T.C.H. Since last year, there have been at least 17 toy recalls in the U.S. and Canada, accounting for 5 million defective toys, reports the watchdog group which releases its list annually.

Shop carefully, even at familiar and trusted stores. Of course you should avoid the toys listed below. But make your own judgments on the safety of the toys you are considering. The main things to beware of are:

  • Marbles and small pieces

  • Sharp edges

  • Small magnets

  • Flimsy toy accessories or pieces which are loosely attached

  • Toys with strings (such as musical instruments and necklaces)

  • Toys which shoot sharp projectiles

Also, remember to buy toys which are age-appropriate, read the warnings on the toy box and watch out for toy packaging materials. Toys and many products come with an almost-invisible plastic lining on mirrors, digital screens and other pieces. Many also come with a lot of plastic wrap. These are all choking hazards and you should remove them before giving toys to children.

Here are the W.A.T.C.H. nominees for the "10 Worst Toys" of 2014.

1) Air Storm Firetek Bow
This toy is designed for children 8 years and older, but it shoots arrows up to 145 feet high in the air and can cause eye injuries. It has glow pieces and is marketed for day or night use, thought it warns against use in the "complete dark." Finally, the packaging carries several other warnings, more than most people want when buying a toy. It sells for under $25 at Walmart and Amazon.com.

2) Radio Flyer Ziggle
Toy2.jpgThe seat on this bike is too low, just 8 inches off the ground, W.A.T.C.H. said. The bike's packaging also features young children who are not wearing bike helmets, which puts them at risk for head injuries. The $39.99 bike is sold at Target, Toys R Us and Amazon.com and is recommended for children ages 3 to 8 years old.

3) Catapencil
This pencil is also a catapult. The packaging encourages children to enjoy target practice from their desktops and reads, "Because the pencil is mightier than the sword." There are no safety warnings or age recommendations. This $3.99 toy is sold at Amazon.com, Ebay.com and Learning Express.

4) Alphabet Zoo Rock and Stack Pull Toy
This toy has a 20-inch cord, which is eight inches longer than industry safety standards. It creates a strangulation risk for young children and the manufacturer even warns parents about this risk on the packaging. This toy is sold for $19.99 at Amazon.com, Toys R Us and Magic Beans stores.

5) SWAT Electric Machine Gun
Junxing Toys Industrial Co. warns buyers on the packaging that its toy gun may be mistaken for an actual firearm by law enforcement officers and others. W.A.T.C.H. rightfully says there is "no excuse for outfitting children with realistic toy weapons designed to produce potentially dangerous and unnecessary thrills." The recent killing of a 12-year old, who was carrying a toy gun mistaken in for a real gun, in Cleveland is a serious reminder of this risk.

6) Wooden Instruments
This toy is designed for children 12 months and older, but includes a 4 ½ inch long drumstick which children can mouth and get lodged in their airway. Additionally, there are no warnings on the toy, which is sold at Walmart.

7) Bottle Rocket Party
This toy makes use of projectiles which can strike and injure a child. There are safety goggles advertised on the packaging, but they are not packed in the box. This toy by Norman & Globus is recommended for children age 8 and older and is sold for $14.99 at Walmart.com, Amazon.com and the Village Toy Shop.

8) Lil' Cutesies - Best Friends
Toy8.jpgWhile advertised as the "perfect friend for your little one," this toy is dangerous, according to the W.A.T.C.H. report. The decorative bow can detach from the doll's head and pose a choking hazard. The toy is designed for children age 2 and older. It is sold for $7.99 or less at Kmart, Toysrus.com and Amazon.com.

9) True Legends Orcs Battle Hammer
This hammer is marketed to children as young as 3 years old, yet it comes with a hammer which stretches nearly 2 feet. Do not look for safety warnings and instructions--there are none! It is distributed by Toys R Us and sold at stores for under $15.

10) Colored Hedgehog
The hedgehog's hair can be easily pulled out, posing a risk for ingestion and aspiration injuries, W.A.T.C.H. says. This infant toy is sold for $10.99 at Toys R Us.

Read the full Worst Toys of 2014 list. Photo credit on this blog: W.A.T.C.H. and the Worst Toys of 2014 report.

Continue reading "Make Sure Not to Buy from the "10 Worst Toys" of 2014 List" »

December 1, 2014

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly: Med-Mal Lawyers Shed Light on Arbitration Realities

marcbreakstone_125.jpgAttorney Marc Breakstone was featured today in a front page article in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly concerning factors which may influence plaintiffs' attorneys to take medical malpractice cases to arbitration and waive the right to a jury trial.

Attorney Breakstone, a medical malpractice lawyer who has practiced in Boston for 28 years, has obtained record-setting awards for clients in medical malpractice cases involving surgical malpractice, failure to diagnose cancer and ambulance negligence.

Breakstone was among a group of Boston medical malpractice lawyers who were interviewed by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. The lawyers cited a number of reasons for taking cases to arbitration, including the ability to remove some of the risk when insurance companies agree to pay plaintiffs within a range of compensation limits at the end of the process.

Breakstone said the personal needs of a plaintiff may also be a valid reason for choosing arbitration. He recalled the case of a terminally ill patient whose trial was delayed.

"I was uncertain my client was going to live that long," Breakstone said. "I elected to waive a jury and arbitrate the case so that my client could have her day in court, so to speak, and see her case to the end."

A plaintiff's personal circumstances may also come into play, Breakstone said. For instance, if a plaintiff is an undocumented immigrant, jurors may consider that over the facts of the case.

"You're more likely to get a fair hearing in front of an arbitrator who's more likely to disregard those factors," Breakstone said.

Arbitration may also be the best choice in cases when aggravating factors work against a defendant, such as substance abuse, Breakstone said. In those cases, the plaintiff may obtain a higher award from an arbitrator.

"A jury is more likely to be upset and want to punish the defendant in a compensatory award than an arbitrator would," he said.

Read the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article (subscription required).

Continue reading "Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly: Med-Mal Lawyers Shed Light on Arbitration Realities" »

November 25, 2014

Shop Carefully for Strollers, Car Seats and Holiday Gifts for Families

20141124_holidayshopping.jpgReady or not, the holiday shopping season begins in earnest this week. Enjoy shopping for loved ones, but remember to buy with caution, especially when selecting toys and products used by young children. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled millions of unsafe toys this year, and also many of the most basic children's products, including car seats, strollers and furniture. Shoppers should closely examine every purchase. Here are a few holiday shopping tips:

Check for recalls. Search the CPSC database to see if a specific product has been recalled. You can also search by company.

Here are some of the important ones to remember:

Graco Recalls. Graco recalled millions of car seats earlier this year because of sticky-buckles which were trapping children in the seats. Just last week, it also recalled 4.7 million defective strollers which can cause finger amputation. Graco recalled the 11 stroller models after 10 fingertip amputations and one finger laceration. The strollers were sold from 2010 until earlier this month at a number of retailers, including Target, Toys R Us, Walmart, Amazon.com and Walmart.com. Read the recall notice.

Furniture Recalls. Common home furniture also caused child injuries this year. In August, Ace Bayou recalled 2.2 million bean bag chairs after two children unzipped them, crawled inside and suffocated to death. Anyone with one of these defective chairs should call the company for a repair kit to disable the zipper.

Another serious recall impacted in Massachusetts. Earlier in the year, Lane furniture renewed its recall of wooden cedar chests after two children in Franklin became trapped in one and suffocated. The children had apparently been playing hide-and-seek and became locked inside. The company first recalled the chests in 1996, but millions of the defective chests are believed to still be in use without the necessary repair.

In the Massachusetts case, the children's family is believed to have bought the used chest at a second-hand store more than a decade ago. Second-hand sales are challenging to regulate, as are families and friends who pass along used products to each other. This makes it important to know the characteristics of an unsafe product as well as specific products which have been recalled.

Buy age-appropriate. Read the age recommendation on toys and children's products. Consider a child's family. If you are buying for a child with younger siblings, buy something which is safe for all ages in the household.

Be careful buying online. After a product is recalled, it is against the law to sell it in stores or online. But some auction and online listing websites do not police private sellers closely. Avoid these sites when holiday shopping for children.

If you purchase through a merchant website such as Amazon.com, make sure you receive the right product and that it has the same age appropriate label and pieces as shown online.

Beware of suffocation and choking hazards. Avoid balloons, marbles and toys with small pieces which children can put in their mouth. Also avoid small magnets. Remember these things come with many toys, but they also come from other gifts and products that enter a home. For instance, the magnet desk sets which were so popular many years ago for adults turned out to be extremely dangerous for children. In some cases with the Buckyball magnet sets (which have been recalled), children found small magnets years after families brought the set into their home in hard-to-reach places, such as under a couch. Our point is: Please consider every gift carefully.

Continue reading "Shop Carefully for Strollers, Car Seats and Holiday Gifts for Families" »

November 21, 2014

Report: Helmet Use Encouraged After Increase in Cyclist Deaths

20141121_bikehelmets.jpgAfter years of decline, a new report reveals that there has been an increase in the number of cyclists killed in motor vehicle accidents since 2010.

The Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) released the, "Spotlight on Highway Safety: Bicyclist Safety" report on Oct. 27th. The report shows cycling deaths have increased 16 percent from 2010 to 2012, from 621 to 722 cyclist fatalities. During that time, Massachusetts saw the numbers almost double, from seven cyclist deaths in 2010 to 15 in 2012. The majority of cyclist deaths came from six states, including California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas.

During this period, other deaths in motor vehicle accidents increased by just one percent.

Two thirds or more of cyclists killed in 2012 were not wearing bike helmets, "a major contributing factor" in deaths because many cyclists suffer serious head injuries, the GHSA said.

More details from the report:

Bike helmet use. Citing 2012 Fatality Analysis Reporting (FARS) data, the GHSA report showed 65 percent of cyclists who died in 2012 were not wearing a bike helmet. Meanwhile, just 17 percent of cyclists were confirmed to be wearing one. Helmet use was unknown for the remaining 18 percent.

Twenty one states, including Massachusetts, have laws mandating bike helmet use for children. But none requires helmet use for adult riders and the GHSA said use has to be encouraged.

In Boston, city officials have raised the idea of mandating bike helmet use. It would not be the first city to do so. Sykesville, Maryland requires cyclists of all ages to wear bike helmets. But such ordinances are largely controversial. Dallas, Texas passed a law mandating helmets for all ages, but city officials revised it this summer, limiting it to cyclists who are 17 and under.

As it stands in Boston, riders of the Hubway bike share must agree to wear bike helmets when they sign up. The City of Boston has actively promoted bike helmet use over the years through advertising campaigns and community outreach programs.

Breakstone, White & Gluck has also worked to increase bike helmet use among children in Massachusetts. Over the past two years, we have donated 3,000 bike helmets through community organizations. We are proud of this work and will be back in 2015.

Our program partners include: Boston Bikes' Roll It Forward, a program run by the City of Boston, Worcester Earn a Bike, CYCLE Kids, Cambridge Public Schools, Somerville Public Schools, Bikes Not Bombs, Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, East Arlington Livable Streets and Arlington Public Schools, Watertown Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, Westborough Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, Somerville Kiwanis, Dedham Bike Rodeo, Boston Cyclists Union, Arlington Town Day, Westwood Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, Lexington Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Ashland Farmer's Market and iCan Shine Camp of Arlington.

State safety efforts. The GHSA touched on safety improvements which communities can make and strongly encouraged development of cycle paths. These go a step further than traditional bike lanes and physically separate motor vehicle traffic from cyclists on the road with flexible posts or other safety measures.

If communities cannot add cycle paths, the GHSA suggests adding marked bike lanes, bike boxes which designate space in a lane for bikes at intersections, and separate bike traffic signals with advance lights for cyclists.

Boston has a 5-year action plan to build 21 miles of cycle tracks in various areas of the city.

Read the full report, "Spotlight on Highway Safety: Bicyclist Safety."

Continue reading "Report: Helmet Use Encouraged After Increase in Cyclist Deaths" »

November 18, 2014

Brockton Pedestrian Accidents Surge, City Officials Unveil Safety Plan

20141118_crosswalk.jpgThe mayor of Brockton has announced a plan to improve safety for those walking in the city. The city has seen an increase in pedestrian accidents, which have recently killed 8 pedestrians and injured 75 others. Seven of the eight pedestrian deaths have occurred since August 12.

Two victims were children, and in one case, police are still searching for the hit-and-run driver. In 2013, the city saw one fatal pedestrian accident.

Mayor Bill Carpenter proposed the safety plan on Monday, which draws on resources from a number of state and local agencies, including the Massachusetts State Police, Brockton Police, the city's Board of Health, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Safe Routes Alliance and Brockton Area Transit.

His plan will focus on three areas: engineering, enforcement and education. Some of the measures still require approval from the city Finance Committee.

Educational Awareness Campaign. The city will launch a pedestrian safety awareness campaign to educate both drivers and pedestrians. One focus will be to reduce use of electronic devices and cell phones by everyone on the road. Public service announcements, video documentaries and other safety materials will be introduced to students in Brockton Public Schools.

Increased Walking Patrols. These will be expanded in high-traffic areas, to allow officers to provide pedestrians and cyclists with safety information when they put themselves in harm's way.

Increased Traffic Patrols in High-Crash Areas. The Massachusetts State Police will work with Brockton to increase patrols in high traffic areas.

Scarecrow Patrol Cars. Brockton Police will deploy "scarecrow" cruisers at some dangerous intersections. These have no officers, but are meant to put drivers who do not know that on alert.

Clearing Sidewalks. The city's Board of Health will conduct enforcement to make sure sidewalks are clear and can be safely used by pedestrians.

Traffic Signals. The city will consider adding pedestrian countdown features to the traffic signals on Belmont Street. At the same time, the Mass Department of Transportation is now conducting a review of traffic signals across the city.

Brockton is not the only community which has seen an increase in pedestrian accidents. Nationwide, fatal pedestrian accidents increased 6 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's most recent figures. More than 33,000 were killed or about one every two hours.

Cyclist accidents are also on the rise, with a 16 percent increase from 2010 to 2012, according to the Governors Highway Safety Administration.

Continue reading "Brockton Pedestrian Accidents Surge, City Officials Unveil Safety Plan" »

November 11, 2014

Former Employees: Takata Hid Airbag Defects

20141111_airbag.jpgLong before the deaths and injuries, Takata knew its airbags were defective, according to two former employees of the company.

In fact, Takata knew about the defects as far back as 2004, the workers told The New York Times. The Japanese company learned one of its airbags exploded and sent metal debris spewing at a driver in Alabama, then began secret testing at its U.S. headquarters in Michigan. The testing was conducted outside normal work hours and was never disclosed until now. Three months into testing, employees began to theorize the problem was the welding on the airbag's inflator canister, but the investigation was shut down and employees were instructed to destroy all testing data.

It took Takata four years to report the faulty airbags in a regulatory filing. In November 2008, the first Takata airbags were recalled.

The law requires car manufacturers to report safety defects to the government within five days once they are identified. This year has seen the most auto recalls in U.S. history and some hefty fines for Toyota and General Motors for failing to disclose defects. In March, Japan-based Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion to the U.S. government to avoid prosecution for hiding "unintended acceleration" defects. In May, General Motors was ordered to pay a record $35 million civil fine for failing to disclose deadly ignition switch defects.

Starting in 2008, Takata's airbag recalls continued slowly, then got a big push last month from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA issued a consumer advisory which urged drivers to immediately check if their vehicle's airbags had been recalled and arrange for a repair. To date, 11 car manufacturers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide. Four deaths have been linked to the defective airbags and at least 139 people have been injured.

A few notes about this story:

Check Your Car. Every driver should check if their car has been recalled at SaferCar.gov. You can also read our blog for answers to many common consumer questions. Most impacted drivers will have to wait for replacement airbags so it is best to call your local dealer as soon as possible. Some carmakers are advising drivers not to carry passengers until their airbags have been replaced.

Why the Airbags are Defective. The airbags are defective because they have a steel canister which can crack when the device deploys in a car crash, sending metal, plastic and chemicals exploding at drivers and front seat passengers. The airbags have an inflator, which is comprised of a propellant based on a common compound used in fertilizer.

Honda. One question going forward is: How much did Honda know? This matters because Honda made more than 5 million of the recalled vehicles. The New York Times reports a 2002 Honda Accord was involved in the 2004 accident in Alabama. Honda officials say Takata assured them the accident in which a driver was injured by a ruptured airbag was an "anomaly." Honda settled the case with the driver but Takata began its own secret testing, according to the employees. The NHTSA has ordered Honda to produce all its documents related to the Takata airbag recall by Dec. 15, so we may learn more then.

Continue reading "Former Employees: Takata Hid Airbag Defects" »

November 3, 2014

Boston City Council Passes Truck Side Guard Ordinance

sideguards-graphic2.jpgThe Boston City Council has passed the Truck Side Guard Ordinance, the first of its kind in the nation. The ordinance will require side guards, convex mirrors, cross-over mirrors, and blind-spot awareness decals on all city-contracted vehicles over 10,000 pounds (or for tractor-trailer trucks with a combined weight over 26,000 pounds).

This ordinance passed quickly and unanimously last week. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, At-Large Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley and the Boston Cyclists Union, a non-profit advocacy group, filed the proposed ordinance on September 9th; it was approved by the council on Oct. 29th. It takes effect 180 days after passage and applies to all future contracts.

Side guards are meant to reduce injuries to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians by closing off the space under a truck. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended a side guard protocol last April, reporting that large truck side impacts comprised of 15 percent of fatal two-vehicle collisions between large trucks and passenger vehicles in 2011. In the United Kingdom, mandated side guards on large trucks reduced cyclist deaths by 61 percent and serious injuries to cyclists by 13 percent, according to a Transport for London study.

Boston's goal is to protect cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers, but cyclists have faced especially hard road conditions in recent years. Since 2010, 11 cyclists have been killed in Boston, seven in bike accidents which involved a truck or bus, according to city figures. Injuries to cyclists from other causes have also increased, even though the city has developed Boston's cycling infrastructure dramatically in recent years. The City continues to expand bike lanes and to work on cycle track projects which will put a physical barrier between cyclists and traffic.

Others may soon follow Boston in passing a truck side guard ordinance. Lawmakers in New York have proposed legislation that would mandate side under-ride guards on trucks, tractors, tractor trailers and semi-trailers. In Massachusetts, Somerville, Cambridge and Newton are also considering ordinances. Elsewhere, Portland and Washington D.C. also have proposed legislations or restrictions.

A few additional points:

Pilot Program. Boston began looking at truck side guards in 2013, when the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics and the city's Public Works Department undertook a municipal pilot study of truck side guards.

Inspection. Vehicles associated with an awarded city contract will be inspected for side guards by the Inspectional Services Department and issued a permit, certifying the vehicle for 2-years.

Enforcement. Businesses will face a fine for vehicles which are not in compliance. The fines start at $100 for the first offense and rise with repeated violations to potential contract termination. The Boston Police Department will assist with enforcement.

Other City Offices. The Boston Transportation Department and Boston Bikes will assist with education, content expertise on best practice and as the point of contact for constituent reporting.

Exemptions. There are some exemptions, such as for trucks which are used exclusively for snow plowing or emergency vehicles.

Read more about Boston's new truck ordinance.

Continue reading "Boston City Council Passes Truck Side Guard Ordinance" »

October 31, 2014

Replace Your Smoke Alarm Batteries As Daylight Saving Time Ends

20141031_smokealarm_web.jpgMany of us are thinking about Halloween today. But Daylight Saving Time also ends this weekend. While setting your clocks back, remember to replace your smoke alarm batteries and test to make sure they work properly.

As we approach winter, we increase use of electrical appliances and the risk for home heating fires rise. In fact, half of all home heating fires happen in December, January and February. The death rate in homes with no working smoke alarms is twice as high as those with alarms, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Often, homes have smoke alarms but the batteries are missing disconnected or dead.

Make as many of these safety checks as you can this weekend:

Smoke alarms. Replace your smoke alarm batteries in every unit of your home and smoke alarms which are 10 years old. Also check if your smoke alarm model has been recalled. Kidde recalled 1.2 million smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in September. You can search for other recalls at www.cpsc.gov.

Carbon monoxide detectors. The state of Massachusetts began requiring carbon monoxide detectors in every residence in 2006 and many home owners have passed the 5-7 year lifespan of their models. Check if yours needs to be replaced. If you have a combination smoke alarm/carbon monoxide detector, check the unit's specific instructions.

Washing machines and dryers. Clothes dryers are responsible for many home fires, but most can be prevented by regularly checking and cleaning the filters. Clean your models out now.

Cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires. Clear out any clutter in your kitchen now so you have plenty of room to set out your ingredients in advance. Find a cabinet or drawer to store anything you may need so you do not have to leave the room while cooking. Make sure you have a functioning fire extinguisher.

Home heating. Arrange for oil delivery or have your chimney or wood stove professionally cleaned. If you are using a space heater, take a few minutes to read our home heating safety tips. Each year, space heaters cause 80 percent of home heating fire deaths and one third of all home heating fires.

Get ready for the snow. Get your snow hat, gloves, shovel and road salt ready now and set them aside in the same place throughout the winter. When it snows, you want to be able to easily find them so you can clear your front steps and driveway so no one slips and falls in the snow and ice.

Cords. Walk through every room of your home and see what is plugged into the electrical outlets. Look under beds, behind computers, in power supplies and in your children's rooms. Unplug cords you are not using and put them in a drawer until you need them. Pay extra attention to the USB cords for your tablets and cell phones and replace them if they look old or worn.

Get your car ready. Take a few precautions and reduce the stress of traveling in the snow. Collect and pack away ice scrapers and small shovels as well as an extra hat, pair of gloves and clothing in case you become stuck while traveling. Also pack a couple flashlights, a non-perishable snack, such as a granola bar, and make sure all your vehicle paperwork is easily accessible in the glove compartment.

Continue reading "Replace Your Smoke Alarm Batteries As Daylight Saving Time Ends" »

October 27, 2014

Check Your Car's Airbags After Recalls Linked to Four Deaths, Injuries

20141027_airbag.jpgLast week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued an advisory urging the public to act immediately on recall notices impacting 7.8 million cars with Takata airbags. The airbags are now linked to four deaths and more than 100 injuries.

If you have not already done so, please immediately check if your vehicle's airbags have been recalled. Visit Safercar.gov. Select your auto manufacturer and enter your vehicle identification number, or VIN.

While car manufacturers are required to notify owners of recalls, do not wait to receive a letter for the company. While many of the airbags were previously recalled, you may have missed an earlier letter or may not have appreciated how serious the recall actually is.

The recalls involve Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. More than 5 million of the cars are Honda models. Many are older vehicles from the 2000-2007 model years.

After you check the site and contact your dealer, be prepared to wait. Unfortunately, many dealers do not have the parts they need to meet demand.

Prior to last week's announcement, 2014 was already the worst year ever for auto recalls, with 50 million vehicles recalled. One in five cars in our country has a defect. General Motors (GM) paid a $35 million fine last spring and has recalled 26 million vehicles.

Why are the airbags defective?
These airbags have inflator mechanisms which can rupture and explode, sending metal and plastic shrapnel at drivers and passengers. They use excessive force. Police were investigating the death of a woman who had been in a car accident as a homicide because she appeared to have stab wounds on her neck. Then her relatives received a letter about the airbag recall to her from home from her car manufacturer. See The New York Times article, "It Looked Like a Stabbing, but Takata's AirBag Was the Killer."

How long will it take to get a replacement part?
It is hard to say. Some dealers already have the replacement parts ready, but others are on back order. Some car manufacturers are warning car owners not to carry front-seat passengers until the airbag defect is fixed. Toyota is telling dealers to shut the passenger seat airbags off in all vehicles that are brought in until new parts are available.

Can I get alternate transportation?
Probably not. It is unfortunate, but most of us will have to wait for the new parts to arrive. Your local dealer may also offer you a trade-in.

I did not buy my car from a dealer. I bought it from a private party.

Check your paper work from your car's sale for the name of the dealer who originally sold the vehicle. If you cannot find this, contact any local dealer of your vehicle and ask them to assist you.

Should I purchase a car under recall?
Unless the specified repair has been made, a dealer is not allowed to sell you a car under recall and you should never purchase one under recall from a private party either.

When you are looking to buy a car, write down the model and year, then search for it online at SaferCar.gov or the Consumer Reports Recall database.

I was planning to sell my car.
You should wait for any serious defect to be repaired before selling your car. This is the safest and most ethical option regardless of the law. But there are laws to consider, including the Massachusetts Used Vehicle Warranty Law, which states private party sellers have to disclose defects to buyers.

Continue reading "Check Your Car's Airbags After Recalls Linked to Four Deaths, Injuries" »

October 20, 2014

Breakstone, White & Gluck Honored by Super Lawyers for 11th Year

We are pleased to announce our attorneys have been selected as Super Lawyers for 2014. This is the 11th year they have been recognized as among the best in Massachusetts and New England.

trio-300.jpg
Our partners, Marc L. Breakstone, David W. White and Ronald E. Gluck, have been selected to various lists, including the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers, Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawyers, New England Super Lawyers and Massachusetts Super Lawyers. Our associate, Samuel A. Segal, has been selected to Massachusetts Super Lawyers Rising Stars, for the second consecutive year.

Super Lawyers is a national rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. The top 5 percent of attorneys in each state are selected. The Super Lawyers list will be published in November's edition of Boston Magazine.


Attorney Marc Breakstone was selected for the following 2014 Super Lawyers honors:

  • Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawyers

  • Massachusetts Super Lawyers, Plaintiff's Medical Malpractice

  • New England Super Lawyers, Plaintiff's Medical Malpractice

marcbreakstone_125.jpgBreakstone has also been named a Top 100 New England Super Lawyer four times, in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. It is the eighth year he has been recognized to the Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawyers and his 11th year as a Massachusetts and New England Super Lawyer in the category of plaintiff's medical malpractice.

Breakstone has established a reputation as one of the top medical malpractice and personal injury lawyers in Massachusetts and New England. For over 25 years, he has represented clients who have been seriously injured by negligence in cases involving wrongful death, construction accidents, gas explosions and transportation and truck accidents. He is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law.


Attorney David W. White was selected for the following 2014 Super Lawyers honors:

  • Top 100 New England Super Lawyers
  • Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawyers
  • Massachusetts Super Lawyers, Personal Injury General Plaintiff

david-150-2.jpgWhite, a past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, has been named to the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers list three times and the Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawyers list six times. He has been recognized on the Massachusetts Super Lawyers list in the personal injury category for 11 years.

White has practiced law in Boston for over 25 years and specializes in personal injury cases, representing clients seriously injured in bicycle accidents, car accidents, construction accidents and those injured in product liability and premises liability cases. He is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law.


Attorney Ronald E. Gluck has been selected for the following 2014 Super Lawyers honors:

  • Massachusetts Super Lawyers, Personal Injury General Plaintiff
  • New England Super Lawyers, Personal Injury General Plaintiff

gluck_150.jpgGluck, who represented victims of the 9-11 attacks, has been selected to the Massachusetts Super Lawyers list for 10 years and New England Super Lawyers for 8 years. He has represented seriously injured clients for over 30 years in cases involving wrongful death, car and truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, liquor liability, premises liability and product liability. He is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.



Attorney Samuel A. Segal has been selected for the following 2014 Super Lawyers honors:

  • Massachusetts Super Lawyers Rising Stars for 2014
  • Massachusetts Super Lawyers Rising Stars for 2013

sam-125.jpgSegal handles personal injury cases in all areas of the firm's practice, including medical malpractice, premises liability, car accidents and construction accident claims. He is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law. The Rising Stars list recognizes the top 2.5 percent of lawyers in the state who are either 40 years old or younger or who have been in practice for 10 years or less.

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October 8, 2014

Distracted Driving Lessons in Massachusetts

20141006-texting.jpgThis month, students at four high schools in Massachusetts will sit down at computer simulators and learn what it feels like to text or use a cell phone while driving and then crash.

This is part of Arbella Insurance Foundation's Distractology 101 program, which will visit Braintree High School, Phillips Academy in Andover, Falmouth High School and Sacred Heart High School in Kingston. Although the young drivers will not actually suffer or cause injury, or feel the remorse of having caused the collision, they will be taught the lesson that distracted driving behaviors, such as cell phone use, using a GPS and even eating and drinking, can result in car accidents and serious injuries. These behaviors should be considered as or more dangerous than speeding or running a red light.

Consider these statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):


  • 10 percent of all fatal crashes in 2011 were reported as distraction-affected crashes (3,331 people killed).

  • Among those who were killed, 12 percent died in a car crash which involved cell phone use.

  • Some 17 percent of all injury crashes in 2011 were reported as distracted-affected crashes (or 387,000 people injured).

  • Among those who were injured, 5 percent were injured in a car accident which involved cell phone use.

Laws have been implemented to reduce the dangers caused by distracted driving. While no state bans all drivers from all cell phone use, hand-held cell phone use is not permitted in 15 states, including Vermont as of Oct. 1.

Laws related to texting while driving are much more prevalent. Texting while driving is now against the law in 44 states. Washington passed the first ban in 2007. Massachusetts implemented its law four years ago. The law, St. 2010, c. 155, bans texting by drivers, including reading, writing or sending messages. Drivers cannot text while driving or sitting at red lights, intersections or other public ways. This is a primary offense, meaning police can pull drivers over when they suspect the behavior, even without any other cause.

Despite these laws, drivers here and in other states still text and check their social media accounts. Younger drivers under 25 are two to three times more likely to text or e-mail while driving than others, according to the NHTSA. But these violations are not limited to young drivers, as the evidence is that older drivers are also engaging in this prohibited behavior.

Fortunately there is some evidence that these laws are starting to work. Recently The Journal of American Health reported that traffic fatalities had dropped 3 percent in states which have primary enforcement laws like Massachusetts. States that ban younger drivers from texting while driving saw an 11 percent drop. The journal studied national traffic data over 11 years.

States may continue to pass laws to reduce distracted driving, but drivers carry responsibility for putting down the phone and becoming aware of other distracting behaviors, such as eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading maps, using a GPS, watching a video or adjusting a radio or music player.

There are some good safety resources out there to help families understand the problem and the attitudes and behaviors that contribute to it. We encourage you to take a look and share them with your colleagues at work and with your family, friends, and children.

For More Information

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October 1, 2014

Breakstone, White & Gluck Donates 150 Bike Helmets for Children in Westwood

Westwood families received free bike helmets for their children and learned about cycling and pedestrian safety at Westwood Town Day on September 27th.

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The Westwood Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee hosted an informational table at the town celebration which was held at the Westwood High School. Breakstone, White & Gluck donated 150 bike helmets which were distributed to children age 16 and younger. The helmets went quickly at the annual event, which offers a fireworks display, music, food and road races for adults and children over the course of two days. Committee members fit children for the bike helmets and explained the importance of always wearing them. Attorney David White, a Westwood resident and committee member, helped fit the helmets.

In Massachusetts, children age 16 and younger are required by law to wear bike helmets. Cyclists of all ages should wear helmets to protect themselves and reduce the risk of head and brain injuries. Many cyclists neglect to do this. In fact, less than half of all cyclists actually wear helmets, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Breakstone, White & Gluck donated the helmets as part of Project KidSafe, our community service project to help prevent injuries among children. Our firm's specialty is handling personal injury cases for those who have been injured, so we know firsthand the importance of injury prevention. We are devoted to keeping children safe. This is the second year we have donated bicycle helmets to organizations around the state. So far, we have donated over 2,000 helmets.

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September 24, 2014

Your Right to Ask Massachusetts Doctors and Hospitals "How Much Does That Cost"

Important Questions After New York Man Was Forced to Pay $117,000 for Last-Minute Surgeon He Never Met

20140924_medicalbilling.jpgIt is hard enough to be in pain and need surgery. But it gets much worse if you are unfairly billed huge sums from doctors you never met and never knew would be "helping."

The New York Times recently shared the story of a New York City man who received an unexpected $117,000 bill after a neck surgery. The story did not have a fair ending; the man had to pay the bill, though the reimbursement came from his health insurance company.

Peter Drier had done careful research on the costs before his surgery at a Manhattan hospital and thought he knew what to expect. But the bank technology manager was blindsided when he received a $117,000 bill for an assistant surgeon he had never met or knew was involved in his care. Before surgery, Drier's primary surgeon, Dr. Nathaniel L. Tindel, had agreed to accept a negotiated fee determined by his insurance company, about $6,200. Drier had to pay $3,000 toward this as part of his health insurance deductible. But Drier was never informed about the assistant surgeon, Dr. Harrison T. Mu, who was outside of his insurance company's network of covered providers, until after he was home and received the bill.

The primary surgeon's office said he did not share in the billing and the assistant surgeon never responded to The New York Times. Drier questioned the charge, and at the same time argued with his insurance company to make the payment. They resisted the "out of network" charge, but eventually paid it, even though by now the patient was protesting the entire unfairness of the situation.

"I thought I understood the risks," Mr. Drier told The New York Times. "But this was just so wrong -- I had no choice and no negotiating power."

The New York Times recently reported on the growing practice of consumers being charged for out of network doctors in many instances, even hospital emergency rooms, and later receiving unexpected bills. This is significant because an out of network physician can charge 20 to 40 times as much as an in network doctor and costs are not covered by health insurance. For example, an out of network doctor charges an average of $115,625 for a spinal fusion in the U.S., while an in network physician charges an average of $5,983, according to figures cited by the newspaper.

How Massachusetts Consumers Can Protect Themselves From Unexpected Charges
New York will implement a new law next March, which in part will require more advance disclosure of medical costs and seek to protect patients from unforeseen out of network fees. Hospitals and insurers will be directed to mediate and negotiate cases from there.

Massachusetts is also making changes. In 2012, the state passed a health care cost containment law, which called for patients to have access to medical costs before a procedure or care is delivered.

  • As of October 2013, health insurers have been required to provide information on cost estimates for office visits to physicians and specific tests and procedures. For the first year, insurers had two working days to provide the information. Starting October 1, 2014, they will be required to provide the information instantaneously. Consumers are expected to be able to search pricing online themselves.
  • As of January 1, 2014, hospitals and physicians also have to provide cost estimates.

What to request:

  • Under the law, your doctor or health care provider must disclose the "allowed amount" or charge of admission, procedure or service, including the amount of any "facility fees." The allowed amount is the contractually agreed amount paid by a carrier to your health care insurer. The most important thing is to make sure you understand what your insurance company must pay and what you must pay for a deductible. If that is not written down for you clearly, ask questions - and keep asking questions until you have something in writing you understand.
  • They should provide you with CPT codes, or the billing codes.
  • As for out of network costs, the law also compels providers who participate in networks to provide sufficient information about the proposed procedure or service to allow a patient to use the network's toll-free number and website to disclose the costs.

The key is that patients must request this information. Start by making sure you understand exactly what your medical treatment will include. Doctors may order panels of test for which expenses add up quickly; you may wish to control the extent of treatment being offered depending on its cost.

We suggest you take time over the next few months and become comfortable with the system before you have a medical crisis. Start by contacting your health insurer and asking for an estimate for your next medical appointment. Contact your physician's office or hospital as well and compare the findings. Also, ask your health insurer what pricing information is available online too but do not rely on it until you learn about the system.

Be a wise consumer! Do not step into a doctor's office until you have reached agreement on the price, what your health insurer will pay, and how much you will pay for your deductible.

Related:
After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill from Doctor He Didn't Know, The New York Times.

Medical Price Transparency Law Rolls Out: Physicians Must Help Patients Estimate Costs, Massachusetts Medical Society Blog

Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Infographic

Many unaware of new rules on health care costs, The Boston Globe.

Breakstone, White & Gluck consumer safety articles


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September 22, 2014

Attorney Sam Segal Elected Treasurer of Massachusetts Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division Board of Directors

sam-linkedin.jpgCongratulations to our associate, Sam Segal, who has been elected treasurer of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division Board of Directors for the 2014-2015 year.

Segal graduated from Northeastern University School of Law in the spring of 2010. He joined Breakstone, White & Gluck as an associate after completing a co-operative internship with the firm as part of his studies. He earned a double-major undergraduate degree with honors from Arcadia University in Pennsylvania.

At Breakstone, White & Gluck, he specializes in personal injury cases, including those involving car accidents, bicycle accidents, medical malpractice and construction accidents. He was selected as a Massachusetts Super Lawyers Rising Star for 2013. Segal has participated in Young Lawyers Division events for several years and also volunteers as an attorney-coach for the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School Mock Trial Team.

Breakstone, White & Gluck has long been active with the Massachusetts Bar Association. Attorney David White served as president for the 2007-2008 term. White and attorney Marc Breakstone have led Continuing Legal Education seminars over the years, in topics such as personal injury and how to start a solo law practice. The firm is also a sponsor at the annual dinner each spring.

We congratulations all the Young Lawyers Division Board of Directors. Read the full announcement.

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