Motorcycle riding down open roadMotorcycle season is almost here. For riders, this means goodbye snow and cold; hello to the open road.

Good pre-season preparation is essential for motorcyclists. Take some time to inspect your motorcycle and helmet and review the Massachusetts driving manual. Review your auto insurance as well; most drivers and motorcyclists do not carry enough insurance.

Wear a Helmet. Under Massachusetts law, motorcyclists must wear helmets which have been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Helmets save lives so make sure yours is in good condition. If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident or fall, replace your helmet.

hoverboardWe saw the worst that can happen last week in Harrisburg, PA when a hoverboard caught on fire in a family’s home, claiming the life of a three-year-old child.

The hoverboard reportedly ignited while charging, destroying the home. The three-year-old girl died at a local hospital and two other girls were left in critical condition. The girl’s father and a teenage boy were treated for smoke inhalation.

This tragedy was compounded by another death; a local firefighter was reportedly killed in a motor vehicle accident while driving to the fire, the victim of an alleged drunk driver who now faces charges.

Britax stroller which was recalled in February 2017As the weather turns warm, parents will be reaching for the outdoor toys and children’s equipment again. Baby strollers are one of the first products to come out.

Before you use a stroller, check if there are any loose or worn parts. Then check if the stroller has been subject to a product recall and caused anyone injury. You can check online now on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.

Baby Stroller Recalls. We started with baby strollers because there have been several baby strollers recalled in the past year, including Britax, Aria Child and Phil & Teds strollers. Britax has actually issued two sets of recalls over the past 15 months, one for 60,000 strollers in January 2016 and another for more than 700,000 strollers in February 2017.

Driving talking on a cell phone in car

As attorneys, we have represented hundreds of victims of motor vehicle crashes over the past three decades. In recent years, we have seen texting while driving and cell phone use by drivers multiply at an alarming rate, causing a stunning number of injuries and deaths. These injuries are preventable, but each year, drivers continue to reach for their phones and the toll rises.

According to the US Department of Transportation, cell phones are now involved in 1.6 million auto crashes each year, injuring 500,000 people and causing 6,000 deaths. While many states have already passed legislation to reduce distracted driving accidents, some are now considering additional measures, including Massachusetts.

Massachusetts lawmakers passed the Safe Driving Law in 2010, which banned texting while driving. There was no further action until January 2016, when the Massachusetts state Senate passed a bill banning handheld cell phone use. The ban would have allowed drivers to use hands free technology to dial and talk. According to the State House News Service, the Massachusetts House of Representatives gave initial approval to a similar bill but the legislation stalled.

With Governor’s Comments, Handheld Cell Phone Debate Returns to the News

Massachusetts State HouseThere was no update for several months. Then Governor Charlie Baker spoke in February, indicating he may not support a handheld ban.

“I don’t want to get out of the business of making it possible for people to talk to other people when they’re driving. Because I think the texting thing is a big problem. I’m not sure I believe that the talking thing is,” Baker said during his “Ask the Governor” segment on WGBH Thursday. His comments were published by the State House News Service.

When the show’s co-host noted that drivers could use hands-free Bluetooth devices, Baker said:

“So now we’re just going to let people who can afford to put a Bluetooth in their new car to have the ability to talk when they’re in a car?” Baker responded. “But we’re not going to let anybody else? Hmm. Let me think about that one a little.”

Following the interview, The Boston Herald called on state lawmakers to resume their work to ban handheld cell phones: “Drivers in Massachusetts have proven that when it comes to using their phones behind the wheel they’re incapable of regulating themselves.”

When texting while driving was banned in 2010, texting was the major concern for distracted driving, the Herald wrote. Today, more people have smartphones which offer quick access to social media and other apps.

How Widespread is Texting While Driving in Massachusetts?
Critics say enforcement for Massachusetts’ texting while driving ban is challenging when drivers can hold their phones to talk, but not for other purposes. Police have worked through some of these issues. According to a Boston Globe analysis, Massachusetts police officers wrote 6,131 tickets in 2015, compared to 1,153 in 2011, the first year of the ban. Overall, between late 2010 and mid-April of 2016 when the analysis was published, 18,383 tickets were issued for texting while driving in Massachusetts.

Drivers under 40 years old received the most tickets and many drivers got caught during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, when many local police departments receive safety grants for enforcement.

Where Proposed Legislation Now Stands in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is one of 46 states which have texting while driving laws. Just 14 states also ban handheld cell phone use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut are among the early adopters.

Expect to hear more debate about a handheld cell phone ban in Massachusetts at some point in the future. While Governor Baker has voiced reservations, when the 2017-2018 legislative session began in January, the Massachusetts House of Representatives referred legislation for hands-free cell phone devices to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.

Where to Find Distracted Driving Safety Campaigns and Information 

No Cell Phone in Car Pledge

Safety campaigns are critical to preventing distracted driving accidents. There are many out there, offering programs for schools and information online.  One effort is from the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA), which brings its “End Distracted Driving” program to high schools. We support this campaign. Two of our partners, Marc L. Breakstone and Ronald E. Gluck, serve on the MATA Board of Governors. Partner David W. White is a long-time member.

Another effort comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which offers this pledge which family members can sign to promise each other they will not use a cell phone while driving.

 

Distracted Driving Prevention and Safety Campaigns:

Distraction.gov: Official U.S. website for distracted driving.

It Can Wait!: AT&T’s documentary to stop distracted driving.

Continue reading

Car accidentUnder the law, Massachusetts drivers must purchase auto insurance before they get behind the wheel. But this is not always cheap. A new study reports auto insurance has become too expensive for 19 million Americans, making it important to shop around so you can find the most coverage for your budget.

The report, “Study on the Affordability of Personal Automobile Insurance,” was released in January by the Federal Insurance Office of the United States Treasury. The Federal Insurance Office (FIO) was created by Congress with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The office is charged with monitoring consumers’ access to affordable insurance products.

The report found basic liability automobile coverage is unaffordable in 845 zip codes where 19 million people live. Households in those areas had average auto insurance costs which exceeded more than 2 percent of average household income.

Driving on U.S. roads became more dangerous in 2016. Preliminary data from the National Safety Council shows more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, a 6 percent increase from 2015.

  • This was the first year more than 40,000 people have died in traffic accidents since 2007.
  • According to The New York Times, 2015 and 2016 saw a 14 percent increase in traffic deaths, the largest two-year increase in more than half a century.

2017-heating-300During these cold and frigid days of winter, some of us are reaching for space heaters. If you can, first try to keep warm other ways: reach for blankets or an extra layer of clothing. But if you must use a space heater, use it with caution and make sure you use it properly. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters are involved in 32 percent of home heating fires and 79 percent of home heating fire deaths in this country. They are the second leading cause of home fire deaths behind smoking.

There have been several heartbreaking stories this winter. In Baltimore, six children were killed in a devastating fire last month. Officials are still investigating, but say it may have been sparked by a space heater. Just a few days ago, a 50-year-old Fall River woman tragically died after a space heater fire ignited her home.

According to the State Fire Marshal’s office, Massachusetts fire departments responded to 133 space heater fires from 2006 to 2015, resulting in 9 civilian deaths and 22 civilian injuries. Some 31 fire service members suffered injuries.

The Today Show aired a segment this morning, which shows just how quickly space heater fires can ignite. We encourage you to watch it.

Safety Tips for Properly Using a Space Heater

Three Feet Rule. Keep space heaters 3 feet away from all furniture and people. Put them in the center of the room.

Plug in to Wall. Plug space heaters directly into the electrical socket on the wall. Many extension cords cannot handle the strong level of electricity passed on from a space heater.

Beware of Automatic Switches. These switches are helpful, but are not a substitute for you turning off your heater yourself, unplugging it and putting it away.

Turn Space Heaters Off Properly. Turn off space heaters before you go to bed when no one can monitor them. Turn it off anytime you cannot supervise it.

Keep Space Heaters Away from Water. Do not use space heaters near sinks or in bathrooms.

Create a Fire Escape Plan. Family members should all know how to properly evacuate the home and be aware of all the routes.

Check Your Fire Alarm Once a Month. This is always a good idea, but extra important during the winter months.

Inventory Your Home. Because half of all home heating fires occur during December, January and February, now is a good time to walk through your home and look for hazards. Look outside, too. Make sure your home’s outside furnace vent is clear of snow. A blocked vent can put your family at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Take Extra Precautions if Children Are in Your Home
Take extra precautions if you live with children. Establish a child-free (and pet-free) zone if you set up a space heater. Keep children as far away from the space heater as possible at all times. Also keep toys away. When finished, turn the space heater off and unplug it. Put it in a safe place which it out of reach of children.

Continue reading

Elderly couple on crosswalkThe Boston Herald has renewed concerns about pedestrian safety with a report that nine pedestrians were hit in Boston on the same day.

On Tuesday, January 17th, the city saw its worst day for pedestrian accidents since at least June 2015, according to a Herald analysis. The first pedestrian accident occurred at a McDonald’s restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue in the South End. This accident occurred shortly after 9:30 a.m. The other eight accidents occurred between 4:30 p.m. and about 9 p.m., in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Brighton and Hyde Park.

Pedestrian Accidents: The Numbers
Pedestrian accidents are a concern for everyone on the roads. In Massachusetts, we do a lot of walking. According to WalkBoston, more than 10 percent of all trips in Massachusetts are taken on foot (this is more than 40 percent greater than the national average).

When it comes to work, 12 percent of Massachusetts residents commute by walking. The number is higher in some communities. In Cambridge, 24 percent of residents walk to work.

According to the Boston Herald, pedestrian injuries are on the rise in Boston. In 2016, 904 pedestrians were injured in crashes, a 15 percent increase over 2015. Twelve pedestrians died in 2016, up from nine in 2015.

Mayor Marty Walsh has formed a Vision Zero task force with a goal of eliminating fatal and serious traffic fatalities in Boston by 2030. As part of the Vision Zero work, the city lowered its default speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph in early January. The change does not impact state-owned roads. If you live or work in Boston, learn more about Boston’s speed limit change.

Pedestrian Safety Tips

Use Sidewalks. The sidewalk is the safest place for pedestrians. If no sidewalks are available, walk on the left side, against traffic so that drivers have a chance to make eye contact with you.

At Night. Carry a flashlight and wear a reflective safety vest if you walk at night or in the early morning.

Use Crosswalks and Traffic Signals. Use crosswalks and press the Walk button when available. Drivers are required to stop for you under Massachusetts law. Other cars are not allowed to pass the stopped vehicle.

Pay Attention to Safety Alerts. Winter is a harsh time for pedestrians. Pay attention to safety alerts and travel warnings from the State of Massachusetts, the MBTA, public schools, communities and your employers.

Beware of Snowbanks and Snowplows. Tall snowbanks obstruct the view between drivers and pedestrians. Wear a neon safety vest if you must walk in travel in these areas and pay attention to traffic. After a storm, expect to see snowplows on streets and working in parking lots. Take it slow.

Beware of Construction Areas. Areas such as North Station in Boston are now much harder for pedestrians to travel due to construction. Pay attention to notices about construction schedules and avoid building activity and construction workers whenever possible.

Watch for Cars Backing Up. Pedestrian accidents can happen when drivers neglect to check for pedestrians as they pull out of a parking space or a driveway. Watch out for these drivers and stop to let them back out.

From Breakstone, White & Gluck’s Experience
20170130-youtube-busaccidentOur attorneys have over 100 years combined experience representing pedestrians who have been injured by the negligence of drivers and defective roadway conditions. Our law firm represented one pedestrian who was struck by a MBTA bus in a crosswalk in 2005. The pedestrian suffered serious injuries and required amputation of her right leg. The case went to trial and was appealed by the MBTA. The final award was $7.1 million for our client. See the re-enactment video we prepared for trial. It shows one way pedestrians can be put at serious risk.

 

Continue reading

Attorney David W. White discusses Massachusetts pothole law for motor vehicle damagesJust as sure as it brings snow, winter in Massachusetts always brings potholes. When drivers hit potholes, their cars can sustain major damage, sometimes totaling in the thousands of dollars. They often want to file a claim against the state or community which maintains the road.

NBC Boston recently aired a story on what rights consumers have if their vehicle is damaged by a pothole (1/24/2017). Attorney David W. White was interviewed and delivered bad news for drivers. Under Massachusetts law, drivers do have 30 days to file a claim against a town or state. But drivers are unlikely to recover any money because the state and towns will claim “contributory negligence.”

“If you are one percent at fault, you get zero percent recovery,” he said.

Breakstone, White & Gluck has received the Nancy King Award for its 100 percent participation in last year’s annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.

The Equal Justice Coalition, which organizes the annual Walk, recently presented our firm with the award. Attorneys Marc L. Breakstone, David W. WhitIMG_6756e, Ronald E. Gluck and Reza Breakstone participated last year.

The Walk was held on January 28, 2016 at the State House in Boston. Hundreds of attorneys gathered in the Great Hall to hear from Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court and Attorney General Maura Healey. Several past presidents of the Massachusetts Bar Association participated, including Attorney David W. White, who served a term from 2007-2008.

The attorneys were then dispatched to speak to state Senators and Representatives and urge them to fund the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line in the Fiscal Year 2017 state budget.
Last year’s campaign was successful, which should provide good motivation for even more attorneys to attend again this year. Governor Charlie Baker approved $18 million in funding for civil legal aid in the final Fiscal Year 2017 Budget of the Commonwealth. This was a $1 million increase over the prior year’s funding.

With the additional funding, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was able to help more low-income people facing homelessness, domestic violence, gain access to health care and other legal services.

To qualify for civil legal aid in Massachusetts, a family must earn no more than 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (or $30,375 a year for a family of four). Despite the increase, the Equal Justice Coalition reports that legal aid organizations are still forced to turn away 64 percent of those eligible because of a lack of funding.

The Equal Justice Coalition has released a Fiscal Year 2018 fact sheet. This year, MLAC is seeking a $5 million increase for civil legal aid. To learn more about the event, visit http://equaljusticecoalition.org/.

2016 Walk to the Hill Attendance awards were recently presented to these firms:

• Nancy King Award: Breakstone, White & Gluck (highest percentage of attorneys participating)
• Highest Participation Award: WilmerHale
• Exceptional Support Awards: Foley Hoag and Ropes & Gray

Continue reading