April 16, 2014

Fourth Season Begins for Boston's Hubway Bike Share Program

hubway-200.jpgHubway, Boston's popular bike share program, launched its fourth season earlier this month. Four years shows a lot of ground covered for the program.

Hubway was launched on July 28, 2011, as a partnership between the City of Boston and Alta Bicycle Share, with 600 bikes at 60 rental stations. The program has been a big success and this season, riders will share 1,300 bikes at 140 bike rental stations in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline. The program hit the 1,500,000-rider mark last Thanksgiving, then closed out 2013 with nearly 10,000 annual subscribers (and that's not counting the short-term memberships).

In the past, Boston split both operating costs and profits with Alta Bicycle Share. Boston paid for its share using private sponsorships and public grant money.

But Boston is now venturing out on its own. Under a new contract, Boston will fund all operating costs and pay Alta Bicycle Share for services. The city will buy all services for a lower rate, about 30 percent less. For each bike dock, this translates into about $70 per month for maintenance and operations. This is lower than other U.S. programs, such as the Capital Bikeshare in Washington D.C., which pays $111 per bike dock.

This is good news and comes at a time when other cities are struggling to pay the bills for their bike shares. Montreal's bike-share program filed for bankruptcy in January and New York City's bike program recently asked officials for millions of dollars in aid.

In addition to seeking public grants and private sponsorship, Boston has kept costs down by closing bike racks for the winter. However, this past winter, Cambridge sites were kept open as a pilot test program.

What is new with Hubway this season:

Cambridge. The city kept Hubway racks open throughout this winter, as part of a pilot program. The system saw an average of 2,000 Hubway trips per week, with no injuries or incidents reported. Six new stations are expected to open this season.

Boston. Ten new Hubway stations are expected in Jamaica Plain and Dorchester this year.

Boston bike helmets. The program asks all riders to agree to wear helmets in their rental contract and has partnered with city businesses to offer subsidized helmets in the past. Last fall, it tested the first bike helmet vending machine in Back Bay, on the corners of Boylston and Massachusetts Avenue. The vending machine holds three dozen helmets and accepts returns.

Bike helmets are required for cyclists age 16 and under in Massachusetts. In addition to requiring use for Hubway cyclists, Boston city officials have discussed the possibility of passing a local law mandating use by all cyclists to protect riders from the risk of long-term head injuries in bicycle accidents.

Brookline. The city will re-open the same four stations in Coolidge Corner, Washington Square and Brookline Village.

Somerville. Somerville will open 12 stations this year. One change is the Ball Square station will be moved to Magoun Square.

Continue reading "Fourth Season Begins for Boston's Hubway Bike Share Program" »

April 10, 2014

Toyota, GM and Mazda Make New Headlines for Safety Recalls

chevy-cobalt.jpgToyota issues its second largest safety recall ever while GM CEO addresses Congress and Mazda reports a new web of problems

Toyota has more bad news for drivers. Just a few weeks ago, Toyota agreed to pay a record $1.2 billion criminal penalty to the federal government. The Japanese automaker, which has recalled over 9 million vehicles worldwide in recent years, recalled another 6.4 million vehicles on Wednesday for steering, airbag and other safety defects. This is the company's second largest single recall announcement. Toyota states that it is not aware of any crashes or injuries involving these defects.

In March, Toyota agreed to pay the $1.2 billion criminal penalty to federal government for misleading consumers and the government about unintended acceleration in its cars and trucks. The Justice Department had charged Toyota with wire fraud, but agreed to defer the criminal charge for three years while the company submits to government monitoring.

This week's recalls involve 27 Toyota models, including the RAV4 and Yaris. The largest recall involves 3.5 million vehicles which have defective spiral cables that can be damaged when the steering wheel is turned. Other defects involve a seat rail that can be pushed forward in a crash, as well as faulty steering column brackets, windshield wiper motors and engine starters.

GM ignition defects draw Congressional inquiry. Last week, General Motors CEO Mary Barra was questioned by Congress about faulty ignition switches in GM vehicles, and about her company's slow response to protecting the public after learning about at least 13 deaths linked to the defect. GM has recalled over 2.5 million vehicles which may be equipped with the faulty ignition switch.

A week later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is waiting on more answers from General Motors. It reports the company has failed to respond to more than a third of its written questions. The company is being fined $7,000 each day for failing to fully respond, and the NHTSA is expected to hand the matter over to the Justice Department shortly.

Spiders and hoses and gas, oh my! Mazda also issued a recall this week, one involving an unusual, but familiar safety problem. For the second time in three years, Mazda has recalled 42,000 Mazda6 sedans. This recall involved vehicles from 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The problem is the yellow sac spider. The spiders are attracted to the smell of gasoline and can weave a web in the evaporative fuel hose, causing pressure to build up in the fuel tank. Too much pressure can cause fuel tank cracks, leaks and fires.

In 2011, Mazda had recalled 65,000 Mazda6s from 2009 and 2010 for this defect. The car manufacturer attempted to remedy the defect by installing a spring inside the vehicle's fuel line, but recently reported nine cases in which this was not adequate. The company is not aware of any fires due to the defect, but will now notify car owners. The remedy requires checking of the evaporative canister vent line and software reprogramming.

Continue reading "Toyota, GM and Mazda Make New Headlines for Safety Recalls" »

April 1, 2014

Attorney David White Receives Volunteer of the Year Award from Boston Bikes

Attorney David White was recognized for his contributions to Boston's cycling community at last night's 6th Annual Boston Bike Update, which was held in the historic Faneuil Hall in Boston.

White, an attorney at Breakstone, White & Gluck, received the Volunteer of the Year award from Boston Bikes, the city office which oversees the growth of safety infrastructure, the Hubway bike share facilities, and programs for youth and low-income residents. White was honored alongside Bikes Not Bombs of Jamaica Plain, which received the Organization of the Year award. Jon Ramos was named Rookie Advocate of the Year and Vineet Gupta was Unsung Hero of the Year.

david-white-award-500.jpg
Photo credit: LivableStreets/www.livablestreets.info. Attorney David W. White of Breakstone, White & Gluck and Nicole Freedman, Director of Boston Bikes, during the 6th Annual Boston Bike Update at Faneuil Hall.

Jenny Duquette, Community Cycling Program Manager, introduced White:

"Our Volunteer of the Year is a former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and a trial lawyer at Breakstone, White, & Gluck, which donated 160 helmets to Roll It Forward in 2013."

"Like any superstar volunteer, he wanted to have an impact, so last year he volunteered at several bike giveaways as our helmet station guru - getting the kids excited about their new helmets, while making sure they got a helmet that actually fit! This year, his firm is donating helmets, locks, and light sets."

Boston Bikes and Roll It Forward
Roll It Forward collects, repairs and distributes bikes to low-income Boston residents who might not otherwise have access to one. The program's goal is to promote a healthier lifestyle with increased physical activity and fewer trips by car. As of January 2014, the program had distributed 2,728 bicycles. It plans to donate 850 more in 2014. In one very busy two-year period, the city's youth cycling program gave safety classes to over 7,770 youth.

Former Mayor Thomas Menino established Boston Bikes in 2007 by hiring transportation planner and former Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman. At that time, Boston only had 60 yards of bike lanes and was frequently cited as the worst city in the country for cyclists.

Today, the city has 60 miles of bike lanes. Boston Bikes is working to expand the network by adding a variety of new bike lanes, including new cycletracks, which will put a barrier between bike lanes and cars. The Hubway program, which launched in July 2011, continues to grow with more bike stations in Boston as well as Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline. And the program strongly encourages use of helmets, by asking riders to agree to wear helmets in the Hubway contracts, partnering with businesses to offer subsidized helmets and opening the first-in-the-nation helmet vending machine in Back Bay.

Related:
Watch the Boston Bike Update.

Read more about Boston Bikes.

View Facebook photos of the 6th Annual Boston Bike Update.

Continue reading "Attorney David White Receives Volunteer of the Year Award from Boston Bikes" »

March 26, 2014

Will Toyota Criminal Penalty Improve Safety?

Toyota Toyota agreed last week to pay a record $1.2 billion criminal penalty for misleading consumers and the government about unintended acceleration in its vehicles. This safety defect and others have resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. Over 10 million Toyota vehicles have been recalled so far.

This is the largest criminal penalty ever imposed on a car manufacturer. As part of the agreement, the Justice Department charged Toyota with wire fraud but deferred the criminal charge for three years while the company submits to government monitoring.

We have been reading about Toyota's safety defects for many years now, along with the more important violation of trust: the Japanese automaker repeatedly failed to warn the public about safety problems. CNN reported last week that the company "at one point boasted internally about saving $100 million in costs by avoiding a full safety recall."

To date, Toyota has paid out more than $66 million in fines for not immediately reporting defects. Several of these fines have been record-breaking. In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fined the company a record $16 million for its delayed response in notifying the government about defects. In 2012, the NHTSA fined the company an additional $17.4 million.

The company has faced numerous injury and wrongful death lawsuits. In addition to sticky pedals and unintended acceleration, unsecured floor mats and other equipment have caused safety hazards. Last October, an Oklahoma jury decided that defective electronics were to blame for a car accident which killed a woman and seriously injured another person. Toyota was ordered to pay $3 million in damages.

As for Toyota, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the Detroit Press: "Put simply, Toyota's conduct was shameful. It showed a blatant disregard for systems and laws designed to look after the safety of consumers. By the company's own admission it protected its brand ahead of its own consumers."

Still, consumers have continued to buy Toyota. The company was the top-selling automaker in 2012 and 2013, selling 9.98 million vehicles in 2013.

Related:
Toyota to pay $1.2 billion in settlement with U.S. over recalls, CNN.

Continue reading "Will Toyota Criminal Penalty Improve Safety?" »

March 19, 2014

Massachusetts Court Judgment is Tragic Reminder About the Social Host Liability Law

A Massachusetts court judgment this week is a tragic reminder of what can happen when teens drink and drive and social host liability laws are ignored.

On Monday, 23-year-old Craig Snow was ordered to pay $1 million each to the parents of Julia Gauthier. In 2010, 19-year-old Gauthier, a freshmen at Salem State College, was killed in a car accident in Lynn when her boyfriend Christopher Maxson rolled the SUV he was driving. She and Maxson had just left a party hosted by Snow, who had provided the alcohol that night. Maxson pled guilty to motor vehicle homicide while driving drunk in December 2010.

Snow was charged criminally under Massachusetts' social host liability law, but avoided jail time. Gauthier's family also filed a civil lawsuit against him, resulting in this week's judgment.

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"The question here is reasonableness and you should not furnish so much alcohol to any guest that you have that they leave your house inebriated," attorney David White said in a television interview this week with FOX 25 News Boston.

White added, "It's a real strong reminder to parents as the graduation season approaches to take extra care to make sure their children aren't driving drunk."

Watch the Fox 25 News Boston interview.

Read more about the social host liability law on our website.

Continue reading "Massachusetts Court Judgment is Tragic Reminder About the Social Host Liability Law" »

March 17, 2014

Healthy Lifestyle Wristbands Causing Skin Rash

fitbit.jpg
As it turns out, a popular wristband for tracking sleep and exercise was actually contributing to poor health.

The Fitbit Force wristband has been recalled and pulled off the market after 9,900 reports it caused skin irritation. Another 250 consumers reported blistering. The product had only been on the market since October. The company has recalled about one million wristbands in the U.S. and 28,000 in Canada. The reactions can be caused by the stainless steel casing, materials used in the strap and adhesives used to assemble the product, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced in its recall notice last week.

This recall involves Fitbit ForceTM wireless activity-tracking wristbands with model numbers FB402BK, FB402BKS, FB402SL and FB402SLS. Consumers should contact San Francisco-based Fitbit for a full refund. They can call (888) 656-6381 or visit www.fitbit.com and click on Recall/Safety info on the bottom right side of the home page.

The wristband serves as a pedometer, sleep monitor and watch. It is about ¾ inch wide and is made of plastic with a stainless steel casing and clasp and a small LED display screen.

The recalled wristbands had a wide distribution. They were sold at several major retailers, including AT&T, Apple Stores, Best Buy, Brookstone, Dick's Sporting Goods, Radio Shack, REI, Sports Authority, Target and other stores. It was sold online at Amazon.com and Fitbit.com. Each was sold for about $130.

In a statement to the media, Fitbit said that "a thorough analysis by independent labs and medical experts revealed that the reactions reported by a small percentage of Force users were likely the result of allergic contact dermatitis." The exact number appears to be in dispute as consumer watchdogs questioned the figures following the CPSC recall announcement. The company had previously issued a voluntary recall on its own on Feb. 21, offering a refund to consumers who wanted one.

Related:
Fitbit Recalls Force Activity-Tracking Wristband Due to Risk of Skin Irritation, Consumer Product Safety Commission

Reports of Rashes Spur Fitbit Recall, ABC News.

Continue reading "Healthy Lifestyle Wristbands Causing Skin Rash" »

March 12, 2014

How Dangerous Is That Boston Intersection?

cars-bw-180.jpgBoston drivers may have a reputation for being the worst around, but the city has managed to stay off a list of most dangerous intersections in New England. On the list, compiled by GoLocal Worcester, the closest Boston came to mentions were intersections in Somerville, Chelsea and Cambridge.

This Somerville intersection of Mystic Avenue and Fellsway was third on GoLocal Worcester's, "60 Most Dangerous Intersections in New England" and first on its, "10 Most Dangerous Intersections in Massachusetts."

60 Most Dangerous Intersections in New England
New Haven, Connecticut is home to the worst intersection in New England, with 561 car crashes reported over three years. A stretch of Interstate 95 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island came in second, while Somerville's Mystic Avenue and Fellsway intersection ranked third.

10 Most Dangerous Intersections in Massachusetts
GoLocal Worcester ranked dangerous intersections based on total number of crashes over three years, deaths, injuries and property damage. It collected data from each state's Department of Transportation. It considered traditional intersections as well as on- and off-ramps on highways.

1. Somerville: Mystic Avenue and Fellsway. This intersection saw 91 total crashes over three years, including three fatal crashes, 24 crashes resulting in injuries, and 64 car accidents which resulted in property damage only.

2. Chelsea: Revere Beach Parkway and Washington Avenue. This roadway saw 39 total crashes in three years, including two fatal car accidents, 11 with injuries, and 26 crashes which resulted in property damage only.

3. Stoughton: Canton and School streets. The numbers were very similar to Chelsea: 39 car accidents in three years, including two fatal auto accidents, 10 with injuries and 27 with property damage only.

4. Waltham: Main and Lyman streets. Some 73 crashes in three years, including one which resulted in a death, 18 resulting in injuries and 54 crashes with property damage only.

5. Holyoke: Main and Cabot streets. This spot saw 57 car accidents over three years, including one fatal car crash, 18 with injuries and 38 which resulted in property damage only.

6. Worcester: Main and Mill streets. This area saw 53 total motor vehicle accidents, including 1 traffic death, 18 crashes resulting in injuries and 34 resulting in property damage only.

7. Cambridge: Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street. This area saw 41 car crashes, including one fatal accident, 19 with injuries and 21 with property damage only.

8. Lowell: Veterans of Foreign Wars Highway and Varnum Avenue. This area saw the second highest number of traffic accidents, with 165 over three years. There were no fatal car crashes, 37 with injuries and 128 which resulted in property damage only.

9. Holyoke: Holyoke Street and Holyoke Mall at Ingleside. This intersection saw 198 crashes over three years, more than any other spot on GoLocal Worcester's list. There were no fatal car accidents, but there were 29 accidents resulting in injuries and 169 crashes resulting in property damage only.

10. Lowell: Bridge Street and Veterans of Foreign Wars Highway. There were 112 car accidents here over three years, including no fatal crashes and 34 which resulted in injuries. Some 78 other motor vehicle accidents resulted in property damage only.

Related:
10 Most Dangerous Intersections in Massachusetts.

60 Most Dangerous Intersections in New England 2014.

Continue reading "How Dangerous Is That Boston Intersection?" »

March 7, 2014

Medical Malpractice Payments Increased Slightly in 2013

medicalerrors.jpgIn 2013, the amount paid out in medical malpractice lawsuits increased by $168 million, or 4.7 percent, nationwide. It was the first increase in 10 years. Of these, 96 percent of payments came by settlement, not a jury verdict.

These figures come from an analysis by Diederich Healthcare. The company reviewed 2013 medical malpractice payouts as recorded by the National Practitioner Data Bank. Other highlights:

  • Overall, $3.7 billion was paid to medical malpractice plaintiffs in the U.S. in 2013.
  • New York and Pennsylvania each saw more than $300 million paid out in medical malpractice payments last year, the most in the country. Massachusetts was among several states in the next category, with defendants paying out between $100-$300 million overall.
  • Despite being in the highest category, New York's medical malpractice payouts decreased by $73 million. Payments in 38 other states rose compared to 2012. In Massachusetts, injured plaintiffs received $7 million less overall.


  • The average payment for cases that went to judgment in 2013 decreased by more than $200,000. Only 3 percent of cases were decided by judgment.

The figures counter claims made by insurers and doctors' groups that there is a crisis caused by malpractice claims. Nevertheless, many states have increased the burden for plaintiffs who wish to file medical malpractice claims.

Roadblocks include medical malpractice tribunals which determine if a case has merit to proceed. In many states, these tribunals are full evidentiary hearings which are required even before suit is filed.

Many states have also enacted "I'm sorry" laws which allow doctors and medical providers to apologize without fear of making a statement which can be used against them in court.
In Massachusetts, legislation which passed in 2012 created a 182-day "cooling off" period to give both sides a chance to reach a settlement. There is no data available to assess whether the new program has had any appreciable effect on the handling of cases.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck
The Boston medical malpractice attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck have over 100 years combined experience handling cases involving surgical malpractice, medical errors, altered medical records and birth injuries. If you have been injured, it is important to learn your rights. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.

Learn more about our medical malpractice case results.

Paramedic Negligence
$10,200,000
Failure to treat an infant with febrile seizures.

Medical Malpractice
$7,500,000
Anesthesia complications resulting in a severe infant brain injury.

Medical Malpractice
$3,000,000
Ovarian cancer and wrongful death.

Related:

Diederich Healthcare infographic.

March 5, 2014

February Product Recalls: CPSC Urges Consumers to Look for Cedar Chests after Children's Deaths

woodenchests-seal.jpgWe share some of the February product recalls and notices issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Each year, thousands of unsafe products are recalled by the CPSC and other government agencies. The CPSC is now focused on the dangers of wooden chests, issuing a renewed call for the cedar chests which recently trapped two young children in Franklin and warning about other chests which have unsafe latches. Since 1996, the agency is aware of 34 reports of deaths involving wooden storage and toy chests.

Protect your family and home by taking a quick glimpse at this month's list:

Renewed Search for Cedar Chests. On Feb. 27, the CPSC and Lane Home Furniture issued a call for the public to make a renewed search for the company's cedar chests. On Jan. 12, a young brother and sister from Franklin suffocated to death in one of the chests while playing hide-and-seek. The CPSC investigation determined that the 75-year-old Lane cedar chest closed and automatically latched shut, locking the children inside.

The chest should not have been in use with the defective locks. In 1996, the Lane Company recalled 12 million similar chests which were made between 1912 and 1987. By 1996, six children had suffocated inside the cedar chests. By 2000, a seventh child had suffocated and two others had nearly died. The company has offered new hardware so the chests will no longer automatically latch shut, but reports estimate there are still 6 million chests which need the repair.

Consumers may have one of these chests in their homes even if they do not realize it. Some may have been purchased at second-hand stores or passed down through families. In the Franklin case, the CPSC said the chest was purchased at a local resale store about 13 years ago. Consumers can look for these names inside the cedar chests: "Lane" and "Virginia Maid."

If you have a chest, you should immediately remove the latch and contact Lane for the replacement hardware. Read the recall notice.

Infantino Recalls Teething Toys Due to Choking Hazard; Sold Exclusively at Target
Infantino has recalled about 191,000 teething toys sold at Target. The toy was the "Go Gaga Squeeze & Teethe Coco the Monkey." The company received seven reports of infants choking or gagging on the monkey's tail. No injuries have been reported. The toys were sold at Target stores nationwide and online from December 2012 through January 2014 for $13. Consumers should take these toys away from young children and contact Infantino for a free replacement.

BebeLove Recalls Baby Walkers Due to Fall and Entrapment Hazards
BebeLove Baby Walkers were recalled for not meeting federal safety standards. BebeLove USA recalled about 3,600 models sold on Amazon.com, Overstock.com and small retailers in California, Arizona and Utah from November 2011 through July 2013.
Consumers can are advised to stop using the product and contact BebeLove for a free repair kit.

No injuries have been reported, but the CPSC reports that style number 358 can fit through a standard doorway and is not designed to stop at the edge of a step as required by the federal safety standards. In addition, style number 368 has leg openings which allow a child to slip down to the point their head can become entrapped at the neck. The CPSC said children using these walkers can be seriously injured or killed.

Rowe Fine Furniture
Rowe Fine Furniture recalled about 220 Ottomans due to a risk of suffocation. No injuries were reported, but the company learned a child became trapped in an Ottoman after a sibling closed the lid on the storage compartment. Consumers can contact Rowe for a free replacement lid and a warning label.

More on February's recalls.

Continue reading "February Product Recalls: CPSC Urges Consumers to Look for Cedar Chests after Children's Deaths" »

February 24, 2014

Study: 40 Percent of Americans Would Encourage Children Not to Play Football

football-field-250.jpgLast summer, the National Football League (NFL) announced it had reached a $765 million settlement with retired players who suffered from concussions and head injuries. But a federal judge has rejected the settlement and the debate about how to address the risk continues.

Even President Barack Obama has spoken: "I would not let my son play pro football," he told The New Yorker magazine. But like many of us, he is a fan; he made the statement while watching the Miami Dolphins play the Carolina Panthers.

Recent surveys show many agree with the president, but many do not. In January, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported 40 percent of Americans would encourage their children to play another sport. Nearly 60 percent answered they would not discourage their children from playing organized football. Other findings include:

  • Some 41 percent thought the NFL has taken meaningful action to reduce and prevent concussions; 20 percent disagreed.
  • Roughly half of those surveyed with an annual salary of $75,000 or more said they would encourage their child to play another sport. On the other hand, only about 25 percent of those who earned $30,000 or less per would try to steer their child to another sport.
  • One third of those who did not attend college said they would encourage their children not to play football, compared to 42 percent of college graduates and 57 percent of people with post-graduate degrees.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll included 800 adults and had a margin of error plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.


Another Poll

In October, a HBO Real Sports/Marist poll reported a deeper divide. Out of more than 1,200 adults, one third said they would be less likely to allow their own son to play football if given the choice. But in the end, 85 percent said they would let their son play. Another 13 percent said they would not and two percent were unsure. (The study did not report on how respondents would feel about letting their daughters play.)

NFL Concussion Lawsuit
The NFL released figures in January showing the number of player concussions dropped 13 percent from 2012 to 2013. It has taken several steps to prevent concussions, including adding neurological consultants to the sidelines and replacing equipment.

But another notable part of the debate came from a recent NFL Nation survey of 320 players, just prior to the Super Bowl. The survey reported 85 percent would play in a Super Bowl with a concussion.

More than 4,500 retired players have filed concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL. The settlement must cover over 20,000 retired players for 65 years. The players accuse the league of long concealing the long-term risk of concussions from players, coaches and trainers. If an athlete suffers multiple concussions, it can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerate disease of the brain which is associated with memory loss, depression, paranoia, confusion and dementia.

Related:
Going the Distance, The New Yorker.

Poll Finds 40 Percent Would Sway Children Away from Football, Wall Street Journal.

Continue reading "Study: 40 Percent of Americans Would Encourage Children Not to Play Football" »

February 21, 2014

Heaving Snow Posing Risk for Homeowners and Roofs

snowroof_180.jpgA young woman's death after heavy snow caused a roof collapse in Weymouth has officials warning the public to watch out for their homes.

On Thursday, a 29-year-old woman was killed when a carport collapsed on her. The woman was talking on the phone while sitting on the porch steps of a Harlem Road home. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has issued a warning for the public to clear off their home roofs and storm drains in their neighborhoods to minimize flooding problems.

While we expect snow in Massachusetts, it has challenged drivers and caused numerous school day cancellations this season. Piles of snow have hampered visibility. Drivers are navigating a maze of snow-packed and slushy roads along with dangerous potholes and, which are starting to appear in the melting.

In addition to the Weymouth woman's death, a barn collapse in Framingham killed three cows and injured four others this week. At the Burlington Mall, a water main break trapped a vehicle in a large sinkhole. The mall was closed but expected to re-open today.

It may seem like a record-setting season, but not this year. Yes, we are already 25 inches above the average season's snowfall. But earlier this week (before the snowfall) the Boston Herald reported that while Boston had seen 53.5 inches, 1995-1996 was the record snow year, with 107.6 inches. The National Weather Service has predicted this season will not even make the top 10 list for heaviest snowfalls.

When snow piles up, some roofs are vulnerable to collapse, especially when there are numerous snow storms combined with rain and overnight melting. Flat commercial roofs are at the greatest risk. This year, while the snow may not appear that deep, some of the storms have dumped heavy wet snow, and that has been followed by soaking rains. The loads are immense.

How to remove snow from a roof is a challenge. Homeowners can attempt to clear it themselves with a snow rake, which can be purchased at most hardware stores. But you should never use a snow rake from a roof. You should clear the snow from the ground to avoid the risk of slipping and falling and head injuries.

Unless you are experienced, avoid ladders, which can be extremely slippery. The other thing to know is that metal snow rakes can conduct electricity if they come into contact with a power line.

Often by this time of year, a roof may require a professional treatment because of repeated snow storms and winter freezing. If that is the case, call someone who is experienced and insured for this type of work. They should be insured in case they damage your home, and they should also carry worker's compensation insurance for their employees. You have the right to ask for proof of insurance, and you should.

Finally, do take some time to shovel your walks and your stairs. It the safe and the neighborly thing to do.

Continue reading "Heaving Snow Posing Risk for Homeowners and Roofs" »

February 14, 2014

What to Know About the the Graco Child Safety Seat Recall

carseat-010314.jpgParents across the country are checking their backseats after Graco issued one of the largest child safety seat recalls in history this week. It may not be the last recall either; the Georgia-based company is facing pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recall 1.8 million additional seats.

Graco recalled 3.7 million car seats manufactured between 2009 and 2013, the fourth largest recall ever for safety seats and the largest in five years, according to media reports. The NHTSA announced Tuesday that Graco was voluntarily recalling 11 models, though the agency had sought recalls of 18 models. The agency has stated it could take legal action to force the recall of the other models, which are rear-facing models for infants.

The car seats have defective buckles, which can be difficult to unlatch or become stuck. Graco said it was not aware of any injuries resulting from the car seat, but the New York Times reports the NHTSA began investigating Graco in 2012, after parents complained to regulators about having to cut children out of the seats from straps. One parent said it took her 45 minutes to loosen the straps enough to pull her daughter out.

But there is at least one case of serious injury. In a Jan. 14 letter to Graco, the NHTSA noted the company was a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in which a two-year-old child was killed in a fire following a car crash. The child was traveling in a Graco Nautilus car seat. The company has said the wrongful death case was resolved by a confidential settlement agreement.

Read the full list of recalled car seats. Parents who have defective car seats can contact Graco for a free replacement buckle. Graco says the seats are safe to use until parents obtain a replacement, but the NHTSA is urging parents to find other seats until they receive the new buckles.

Parents want to be able to trust the car seats, strollers and cribs they use to care for their children. Because these are important purchases, many parents and family members spend time researching and reading consumer reviews on Internet shopping sites such as Amazon.com before purchasing.

These reviews are helpful, as is feedback from other parents. But there are a few other steps parents can take:

Mail in the product registration. You want to make sure the company knows you have its product and need to be notified of any defect or recall and be included in the remedy process.

Do your research. Search the NHTSA database for car seat recalls.

Car seat inspection. Visit this NHTSA website page to search for sites where you can get your car seat inspected. Watch as the certified professional fits your child's car seat and what to watch as you go about your daily driving routine.

Check your product. Remember a few basics about all children products, from toys to car seats. First, make sure they do not have small parts which can easily break and become a choking hazard. Make sure your child can move freely in seats with straps. Make sure the product can fully support your child by reading the age and weight requirements.

Continue reading "What to Know About the the Graco Child Safety Seat Recall" »

February 10, 2014

Buckle Up Massachusetts: State Fails to Win Top Safety Score from Watchdog Organization

seatbelt-2-200.jpgWhen it comes to seat belts, Massachusetts may need to buckle up and strengthen its laws if it wants a higher rating from one safety organization.

Massachusetts was among 29 states which received a secondary rating from the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety in its annual report released in January. In the 2014 "Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws" report, the group gave 10 states - including Rhode Island - its highest rating. Poor ratings were given to New Hampshire and 10 other states.

Massachusetts received strong marks for teen driving laws, but fell short in other areas, including its lack of a primary seat belt law.

In Massachusetts, the law governing seat belt use is M.G.L. c. 90 § 13A. Drivers and passengers are required to wear seat belts, but police can only issue citations for violations if they pull over a vehicle for another offense. Each driver and occupant over age 16 shall be fined $25 for failing to wear a seat belt. Drivers can be fined for occupants 12 to 16 years old. Children 12 and younger must follow the Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Law, M.G.L. c. 90, §7AA.

Across the country, 33 states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement laws for front seat passengers and 17 have these laws for back seat passengers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has long cited seat belts as the most effective way to reduce the risk of death in a car crash. In 2012, the agency credits seat belts with saving 12,174 lives in auto accidents.

In Massachusetts, we have fiercely debated our seat belt laws. Gov. Michael Dukakis signed a mandatory seat belt law in 1985. But a year later, opponents organized a citizen campaign and repealed the measure at the ballot box.

While today's law requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts, in 2009 the NHTSA surveyed seat belt use across the country and ranked Massachusetts last for compliance.

At that time, 67 percent of occupants of vehicles in Massachusetts were wearing seat belts compared to the national average of 83 percent among other states.

Recent state figures report a greater compliance rate. The 2012 Massachusetts Safety Belt Usage Observation Study, prepared for Massachusetts Highway Safety Division reported a 73 percent compliance rate in 2011, an increase from 50 percent in 2000.

Attorney Ronald Gluck of Breakstone, White and Gluck stated that "fortunately, over the years, our firm has seen a significant reduction in cases where the injuries are directly tied to the failure of occupants to wear seat belts. "

Related:
2014 Roadmap of Highway Safety Laws, Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety.

2012 Massachusetts Safety Belt Observation Study, Massachusetts Highway Safety Division.

Continue reading "Buckle Up Massachusetts: State Fails to Win Top Safety Score from Watchdog Organization" »

February 7, 2014

Pedestrians Being Fined in Some U.S. Cities

pedestrians.JPGPedestrians now have to watch out for more than just traffic in two major cities.

Jaywalking laws have traditionally gone unenforced in many cities, but New York City and Los Angeles are now telling pedestrians to follow the letter of the law or face citation. Pedestrians are surprised, and in some cases, are facing hefty fines for crossing the street before the traffic signal changes. One man in Los Angeles was ticketed $197 as he walked to work.

"I didn't even know that was against the law," he told the New York Times. "I was like, "You are the L.A.P.D., and this is what you are doing right now?"

New York City Police are taking the same steps. The city saw 12 pedestrian fatalities in January, prompting new Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate traffic deaths within 10 years. Vision Zero focuses largely on drivers, but at the same time, New York City Police have started enforcing jaywalking laws.

Pedestrians have responded strongly against enforcement, both in Los Angeles and New York City. In Los Angeles, a lawyer who was ticketed as he walked to a local courthouse told the New York Times:

"Honestly, I cussed them out for about five minutes. I told them what a stupid waste of time this was, and wasn't it great that they had two police officers standing there when there are obviously more important issues out there."

In New York City, an 84-year-old man, Kang Wong, has filed notice he plans to sue the city and police department for $5 million. He alleges he was pushed against a wall and beaten as he was cited, sustaining head injuries and other trauma.

In New York City, three of the pedestrians were killed in the Upper West Side, near Broadway and 96th Street. They were a 9-year-old boy who was hit by a taxi as he crossed the street with his father, a young doctor struck by an ambulance outside her apartment building and a 73-year-old man hit by a tour bus.

After these deaths, the city installed electronic signs warning pedestrians to use the crosswalks. Police stood by with a bullhorn, citing pedestrians who violated jaywalking laws $40-$100.

Every city has an interest in this conversation, including here in Boston and Massachusetts. Our state sees an average of 86 pedestrian deaths each year, nearly one fifth of all traffic fatalities, according to WalkBoston, a non-profit advocacy organization which represents pedestrians and 75 cities and towns across the state.

But rather than ticket pedestrians, WalkBoston advocates for improving infrastructure and education. For instance, it notes that 90 percent of pedestrians killed are struck by cars traveling 40 mph compared to 5 percent who die by cars traveling at 20 mph. One way to encourage drivers to slow down is to reduce travel lane widths, the organization says.

Perhaps you are wondering what the fine for jaywalking is in Massachusetts. We hope you are sitting down: It is $1.00! But after three offenses, the fine doubles M.G.L. c. 90, § 18A. Municipalities won't balance their budgets on jaywalking tickets, that's for certain.

Related:
New York City takes aim at jaywalking, The Boston Globe.

Continue reading "Pedestrians Being Fined in Some U.S. Cities" »

February 3, 2014

Product Recalls in January: Baby Strollers, Walmart Table Sets

britax-stroller-250.jpgA few weeks ago, two young children in Franklin tragically died after becoming trapped in a defective wooden hope chest during a game of hide and seek. We follow reports of defective products carefully, and we now share some of the January product recalls issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). That agency is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with consumer products.

Britax Stroller Recall
Britax recalled 225,000 strollers last week due to the stroller's folding mechanism, which poses a risk for partial fingertip amputation. The company had received eight incident reports, including one partial fingertip amputation, one broken finger and severe finger lacerations.

Consumers are advised to stop using the recalled strollers immediately and contact Britax for a free repair kit.

The recall involves these models: Britax B-Agile, B-Agile Double and BOB Motion Strollers. They were sold at major retailers and juvenile product stores nationwide from May 2011 through June 2013. They were also sold through Amazon.com, ToysRUs.com and other online retailers. They sold for between $250 and $450.

In recent years, Maclaren USA has also recalled strollers with hinges which posed an amputation risk. In 2009, Maclaren USA recalled one million strollers after 12 reports of fingertip amputations and three other incidents. The company re-issued the recall in 2011. By that time, it had received a total of 149 reports, including 17 reports of fingertip amputations and other injuries, including lacerations and fingertip entrapments/bruising.

Pacifier Recalls
There were two recalls related to pacifiers this month. On Jan. 22, Playtex recalled 1.25 million pacifier holder clips in the U.S. and 150,000 in Canada. These clips attach the pacifier to clothing, diaper bags and strollers.

Playtex received 99 reports of the holder cracking or breaking. No injuries have been reported. Consumers are advised to stop using the product and contact Playtex for a full refund.

Last week, Fred & Friends recalled three models of its "Chill Baby" pacifier line, including 183,000 in the United States and 17,000 in Canada. The pacifiers have novelty features which can detach and do not meet federal safety standards. No injuries have been reported but consumers are advised to stop using the pacifiers and return them to Fred & Friends for a $12 refund.

Gree Dehumidifier Recall Expanded
In September, Gree recalled 2.2 million dehumidifiers under 12 brand names because they posed a risk for fire and burns. It expanded this recall last week, adding another 350,000 dehumidifiers under the GE brand name in the U.S. and 2,700 in Canada. The company had received 16 reports of incidents, including 11 reports of overheating with no property damage and 5 reports of fires associated with $430,000 in property damage.

The previous recall was associated with more than 71 fires and $2,725,000 in property damage. No injuries have been reported.

These dehumidifiers were manufactured by Gree Electric Appliances of China and imported by GE Appliances of Louisville, Kentucky. They were sold from April 2008 through December 2011 at Sam's Club, Walmart and other stores in the U.S. and Canada. They were also sold on Amazon.com and Ebay.com. They sold for between $180 and $270. Consumers are advised to stop using the dehumidifiers and contact Gree for a refund.

Walmart Card Table and Chair Sets Recalled
Walmart recalled its Mainstays five-piece card table and chair set earlier this month because the chairs can collapse and may pose a risk of finger injury, including amputation. The retailer received 10 reports of injuries, including one finger amputation, three fingertip amputations, sprained or fractured fingers and one report of a sore back.

These table sets were sold in Walmart stores and online from May 2013 through November 2013 for about $50. On the bottom of the chairs, they have a label which reads: "Made by: Dongguan Shin Din Metal & Plastic Products Co," or "Made by: Taiwan Shin Yeh Enterprises", is printed on a white label on the bottom of the chairs.

Consumers are advised to stop using this product and return to Walmart for a full refund.

Related:
Consumer Product Safety Commission website.

Strollers Recalled by Britax Due to Partial Fingertip Amputation Hazard, CPSC.

Gree Expands Dehumidifier Recall to Include GE Brand Dehumidifiers Due to Serious Fire and Burn Hazards, CPSC.

Continue reading "Product Recalls in January: Baby Strollers, Walmart Table Sets" »