A self-driving Uber vehicle has been involved in a fatal pedestrian crash in Arizona. Attorney Reza Breakstone’s article explores liability when self-driving cars crash: https://tinyurl.com/y8qrfs69.
Friends, family and colleagues helped us celebrate 25 years of serving our clients in June.
Photos from the event were published in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly on August 31, 2017. Subscription required for access.
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. White, 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.
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
Attorney Reza Breakstone writes about the legal ramifications of self-driving cars in an article published in the Winter 2016-2017 edition of The Litigator, the official publication of the Capital City Trial Lawyers Association in Sacramento, California. Attorney Breakstone co-authored the article with Attorney Paul Hoybjerg of Roseville, California. In the article, “The Self Driving Car: Science Fiction Becomes Reality, Creating a Legal Quandary,” the authors write the time has come for the self-driving car.
“The self-driving car is no longer a distant dream of an imagined future. It is here, it is now, and it is reality. There already exist automated functions that come standard on vehicles: anti-lock brakes, self-parking, cruise control, and crash avoidance cameras. Automated cars will affect more than simply your ability to tie your tie or apply your make-up on the way to work. They stand to completely change the automotive industry, insurance world, legal market, public transport and city planning, while redefining the American culture of feeling “freedom” behind the wheel.”
The article explains the current levels of automation among vehicles on the market, investments in the industry and ramifications for auto insurers and plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury cases.
“The less thrilling ramifications may be to the bottom line of auto insurers and the plaintiffs’ and defense bars in personal injury cases. Currently, auto insurance premiums account for $200 billion nationwide. The insurance industry, with decreased vehicle ownership and decreased liability issues on the part of the user, will find itself cut out of the equation. Allstate Corp. Chairman Thomas Wilson predicts that driverless cars will have “the most detrimental impact on auto insurance” and one “we don’t want to wait” to figure it out.”
About Attorney Reza Breakstone
Attorney Reza Breakstone joined Breakstone, White & Gluck as an associate in 2015. Learn more about Reza on our website.
Breakstone, White & Gluck has completed its 2016 Project KidSafe campaign, donating nearly 5,000 helmets to children in Massachusetts this year. With help from local bicycle committees, police departments, schools and community groups, we have now donated more than 10,000 bicycle helmets over four years to help children ride safely.
Our partners, Marc L. Breakstone, David W. White and Ronald E. Gluck, thank everyone who has helped us and embraced our goal: to keep children and families safe and encourage them to wear a helmet every time they ride to prevent serious head injuries.
Boston Bikes, Roll It Forward
Bikes Not Bombs
Arlington iCan Shine Camp
Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee
Ashland Farmers Market
Bicyclecentro of East Boston
Commonwheels Bicycle Collective
Dedham Bike Rodeo
East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition
Easthampton Healthy Youth Coalition
Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee
Friends of Lexington Bikeways
Haynes Early Education Center in Roxbury
Massachusetts Safe Routes to School
Northbridge Public Schools
Somerville Kiwanis Club
Somerville Public Schools
The Home for Little Wanderers
Tierney Learning Center of South Boston
Up Academy Dorchester
Watertown Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee
Westborough Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee
Westwood Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee
Windsor Street Care Center of Cambridge
Our Police Department Partners:
Cycling Clubs and Bicycle Organizations:
We were also pleased to support safe riding in other ways, by sponsoring the Boston Cyclists Union, MassBike, Northeast Bicycle Club, Charles River Wheelmen, New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA), CYCLE Kids and Bikes Not Bombs. We are also sponsoring the Boston Bikes #BeBrilliant campaign again in 2016.
We are reprinting a Letter to the Editor which ran in today’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. The letter was written by Attorney Reza Breakstone of Breakstone, White & Gluck in Boston and J. Paul Hoybjerg of Sacramento, California.
To the editor:
The Oct. 3 page 1 story “PI bar eyes ‘driverless’ technology carefully” raises important questions regarding the future of auto injury claims and the potential impact on tort lawyers.
One of the central questions is: Should all auto injury claims involving a self-driving car be treated as product liability claims? Our contention is no; tort law will be perfectly suited to address claims involving self-driving cars.
Although self-driving cars seem like an imminent reality, they are, in fact, still many years away from hitting the roads en masse. The technology will be phased in like other automatic features on cars. Responsibility for control of vehicles will diminish gradually.
Even after cars become more autonomous, humans will remain involved in many aspects of the operation of the vehicles. For example, there will be times when a person must take over the car or bring it to a stop. One must also keep the car in good condition, not permit operation in adverse weather conditions, and maintain the vehicle according to manufacturer recommendations (i.e., it may be negligent to make after-market changes such as lowering a vehicle or installing a new exhaust or programming chip to increase the speed).
Although product liability claims may be appropriate in certain instances, we are confident that the common law of negligence claims will evolve with the technology. A wholesale transformation of the practice is unnecessary. It is wise to look to trends to predict disruptions in the practice. But the self-driving car need not be that disruptive.
As long as humans are involved in the operation, maintenance, modification or repair of autonomous vehicles, tort jurisprudence will apply.
J. Paul Hoybjerg
Breakstone, White & Gluck was pleased to donate 120 children’s bicycle helmets to the Dedham Police Department and the Dedham Bike Rodeo this year. This was our fourth year participating in the rodeo and Attorney Reza Breakstone was on hand to fit children for new helmets and answer questions about bicycle safety.
The Dedham Police Department and the Dedham Parks & Recreation Department organize the annual rodeo, which is always held at the Endicott Estate. We always expect warm weather, but this year was especially hot and we were worried children may not come out. There was no cause for concern. We still had many parents and grandparents bring children, and children from local childcare programs stop in. Attorney Breakstone still fit about 75 children ages 4 to 10 for new bicycle helmets. Dedham police officers will give the rest to children who need one.
Breakstone, White & Gluck donated the bicycle helmets through our Project KidSafe campaign, which has now donated over 10,000 helmets to children in eastern Massachusetts. We started our safety campaign in 2013. The Dedham Bike Rodeo was one of our first events and it is always rewarding to return each year.
How to Fit Your Child’s Bicycle Helmet
If you or your child need help fitting a helmet, we want to share this video. Putting a bicycle helmet on your child is a critical step in protecting them from a serious head injury. By wearing a helmet, cyclists reduce their chance for head injury by 50 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Other studies have shown it provides even more protection so it is important for all cyclists to wear one, every time they ride. Continue reading
In a major victory for the rights of injured workers, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that pain and suffering damages, to which injured workers are entitled in their accident cases, are not subject to liens from workers’ compensation insurance companies. As a result of the ruling, workers will be able to keep more of their personal injury settlements and verdicts.
Until today, there was confusion over the relationship between workers’ compensation liens and damages paid by a third party to employees for worksite injuries. If an employee gets injured, he or she is entitled to workers’ compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and other specific damages. But workers’ compensation insurance does not pay for pain and suffering damages.
We joined hundreds of lawyers at the Massachusetts State House Thursday to lobby for increased funding for civil legal aid. We gathered as part of the 17th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Funding is in crisis in Massachusetts, with nearly two-thirds of eligible low-income residents who seek help being turned away.
With an increase, more people will be able to stay in their homes, find shelter and avoid hardship. Please keep reading this blog on the $27 million budget appropriation sought and visit this page to contact your legislator.
Right to Left: Attorney David W. White, Massachusetts Bar Association President (2007-2008), Attorney Ronald E. Gluck, Attorney Marc L. Breakstone and Attorney Reza Breakstone at the Annual Walk for Civil Legal Aid on January 28, 2016.
In an important victory for an injured mother, the Appeals Court permitted a plaintiff’s negligence claim to survive a motion for summary judgment, overturning a Superior Court judge’s holding that the recreational use statute barred recovery.
On January 14, 2016, the Appeals Court in Amaral v. Seekonk Grand Prix Corp., No. 13-P-1848, slip op. (Mass. App. Ct. Jan. 14, 2016) overturned the decision of a Superior Court judge which immunized a business from liability for personal injuries under the recreational use statute, M.G.L. c. 21, § 17C(a): “Public use of land for recreational, conservation, scientific educational and other purposes; landowner’s liability limited; exception.”
The question on appeal arose when summary judgment was granted to the defendant, Seekonk Grand Prix Corp., a go-cart, mini-golf, bumper car, and arcade business, which was sued by a mother who was injured on their premises.
The defendant argued to the Superior Court judge that the mother was watching her two sons drive go-carts, which constituted a recreational activity, when she was injured on the premises. Specifically, a little girl drove through a fence and struck the plaintiff causing a number of injuries including a pulmonary embolism that resulted from a blood clot in her leg. The defendant noted that the mother did not pay a fee to be on the premises to watch her children drive go-carts and was thus barred from recovery under the recreational use statute.
The Superior Court judge, citing case law indicating that the statute provided immunity from liability when a landowner did not impose a charge or fee for an injured plaintiff’s recreational use of the land, agreed, and granted the defendant summary judgment. See Seich v. Canton, 462 Mass. 84, 85-86 (1997) (holding municipality’s fee to defray expenses for participation in a basketball league did not constitute fee for public use of town land; thus, parent who was injured in a slip and fall while attending daughter’s basketball game was barred from action against town); Whooley v. Commonwealth, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 909, 910 (1997) (barring plaintiff from recovery for slip and fall at hockey rink under recreational use statute because she had free use of the rink for the recreational purpose of spectating her grandson’s hockey game and she failed to show evidence that grandson’s hockey team in fact paid for its use of the rink).
Recreational Use Statute
The Massachusetts recreational use statute provides that those who make their land available to the public for “recreational . . . purposes without imposing a charge or fee therefor, . . . shall not be liable for personal injuries. . . sustained by such members of the public . . . in the absence of wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct by [the landowner].” M.G.L. c. 21, § 17C(a).
On the other hand, § 17C(b) states that “[t]he liability of any person who imposes a charge or fee for the use of his land by the public for the purposes described in subsection (a) shall not be limited by any provision of this section. For the purposes of this section, ‘person’ . . . shall include, without limitation, . . . [a] corporation, company or other business organization . . . .”
No Definitive Definition of Recreational Use
The Appeals Court in Amaral noted that the term “recreation” was not defined by statute, nor had it ever been defined by the Supreme Judicial Court. Dicta in Catanzarite v. Springfield, 32 Mass. App. Ct. 967, 967 (1992) construed the term “recreation” to include “passive pursuits, such as watching baseball,” but the Supreme Judicial Court “prefaced this remark by stating that it had ‘never defined the term.'” At least one other Appeals Court case cited the dicta in Catanzarite but “in a manner that leaves in some doubt its own views of the principle.” Nantasket Beachfront Condos. LLC v. Hull Redev. Authy., 87 Mass. App. Ct. 455, 465 n.13 (2015).
Appeals Court Decision: Mother’s Use Was Neither Recreational Nor Free
On appeal, the Appeals Court noted that the plaintiff’s presence on the property was not for a recreational purpose: she was a parent who accompanied minor children, purchased tickets for their use of go-carts, and remained to supervise them. In essence, the plaintiff was using the facility for the recreation of her children, and she paid for that use by purchasing tickets.
The court reasoned that application of the recreational use statute’s immunity provision would undermine the very purpose of the statute: “to encourage landowners to permit broad public free use of land for recreational purposes by limiting their obligations to lawful visitors under the common law.” Furthermore, the court noted that the mother purchased the tickets for use of the go-carts, tickets which she could have conceivably used herself.
Because the plaintiff was charged a fee for her particular use of the land, her use was not free. Nor was her activity–monitoring her minor children while they drove go-carts–recreational in nature. Therefore, summary judgment was not appropriate. The judgment of the Superior Court was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Appeals Court’s decision.
Individuals should be mindful that their use of land designed for public recreational use, free of charge, comes with the caveat that the landowner may not be responsible for any personal injury absent wanton, willful, or reckless conduct. Always proceed with caution when engaging in pickup sports games, or recreational activities that could lead to personal injuries. If you or someone you know has been injured, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck, PC of Boston for a free consultation.
About Reza Breakstone
Reza Breakstone joined Breakstone, White & Gluck as an associate in 2015. Reza has earned a reputation as a tough and tenacious litigator helping both individuals who have been personally injured and burgeoning companies who have had insurance and contract disputes. After law school, Reza joined the Boston office of Mintz Levin, where his practice encompassed complex business litigation, federal antitrust defense, and securities litigation.
While at Mintz Levin, Reza received a fellowship to serve as an Assistant District Attorney with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, working out of the West Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court. In this year-long fellowship position, he prosecuted a wide range of criminal offenses and gained valuable in-court and trial experience having tried seventeen cases before a judge or jury, and securing convictions in a majority of his trials before a jury. Read his bio.