Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Black dog bites at a woman in Massachusetts

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against homeowners who own certain dog breeds.

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against homeowners based on their dog’s breed.

Rep. Jack M. Lewis (D-Framingham) is the sponsor of H.554, which would ensure dog owners can buy insurance to provide compensation to anyone injured by their pet.

College student and moving box

Many college students heading to Boston will be living in off-campus housing. The attorneys of Breakstone, White & Gluck share safety tips and resources.

College students are just days away from starting the Fall semester. In Boston and Cambridge, we urge students to make time for an extra lesson on safe housing. Make sure you understand your rights as a tenant and your landlord’s responsibility to maintain a safe property.

Boston and Cambridge have more than 40 colleges and universities. Because of a shortage in dorm space, many students end up in off-campus housing. Unfortunately, some find themselves dealing with unresponsive landlords who want to collect rent, without doing the work to maintain a property. If you are in this situation, it is important to remember that if a landlord is charging you rent, you have the right to a safe and sanitary apartment.

When a landlord is unresponsive and negligent, it can lead to many problems. It can result in sanitary issues, such as mold, rodents or a bug infestations. It can also lead to broken equipment (for instance, a broken smoke alarm, which needs to be addressed right away).

Porch collapses and fires are two of the most common and serious types of premises liability accidents. As a result of landlord negligence, over the past 10 years, five college students have died in off-campus fires in Massachusetts, according to the state’s website.

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Attorney David W. White is interviewed by NBC Boston on the Dorchester building fire

Attorney David W. White is interviewed by NBC Boston on the next steps ahead for buyers after the Dorchester building fire tragedy.

(June 29, 2017) Attorney David W. White was interviewed by NBC Boston on the potential legal options ahead for buyers of condos destroyed by a massive blaze in Dorchester. The fire went up on Wednesday, just a day before a fire inspection was reportedly scheduled.

The six-story Treadmark building had 83 units, including 32 for home ownership and 51 for affordable rentals. It was located in the Ashmont section of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.

Man flying a droneMore than a million drones were sold this holiday season. If one happened to land in your pile of presents, remember that taking to your neighborhood skies comes with responsibilities. We offer a few reminders about insurance and protecting yourself from financial liability if there is injury or property damage. As a drone operator, you want to make sure that you will be able to pay for damages or personal injury that was caused by your negligence.

Homeowners and Renters Insurance. Start by reviewing your homeowners and renters insurance policies. Then speak to your insurance agent to learn if drone-related accidents are covered.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, drones are most likely covered under these policies. The liability portion of your homeowners insurance may cover you in lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage. Your policy may also provide no-fault medical coverage if someone is accidentally injured by your drone. But there are limits; medical bills for you and family members may not be covered by no-fault medical coverage.

Another reason to have insurance for your drone: If your drone causes bodily injury or property damage, and a claim is brought against you, proper insurance will not only cover the damages; the insurance company will also provide a lawyer to defend the claim against you.

Check with your insurance agent. The insurance industry is actively discussing this topic. Already, some insurers may exclude drone-related accidents from homeowners insurance policies. Others may choose to do so in the future.

Car Insurance. Your auto insurance policy may cover property damage resulting from crash landings or related accidents. Ask your auto insurance agent.

Commercial Users. If you operate a drone for business (even for a part-time business), you should ask your agent if you are covered. This would not typically be covered under your homeowners insurance policy.

Safety Reminders. Never use your drone recklessly and always follow current safety regulations. Drone owners are required to register drones with the FAA and fly at or below 400 feet. Failure to do so could result in a fine. To learn more, watch this safety video from the FAA.

Theft. Consider theft insurance if it make sense. Some drones are small and can be easily stolen. But remember many homeowners have to pay a deductible if they file a claim. If you own an inexpensive drone it will likely be less than your deductible. Maybe it was time to upgrade to the fancier drone anyway.

Memberships. If you do not have adequate coverage, consider your options. You may be able to buy more insurance coverage from your carrier or research other insurance carriers. You may also qualify for coverage if you belong to a membership organization or club. The New York Times reported the Academy of Model Aeronautics offers group liability coverage as part of its $75 per year membership. This may pay for damages after your homeowners insurance policy is exhausted.

Time to Get Started
If you are a drone owner, we hope you take the time to check with your insurance agent so you understand your potential liability. Drone crashes can happen on your property or a neighbor’s property and you want to be prepared.

Here are two resources:

“Getting a Drone as a Gift? Check Your Insurance,” New York Times.

“Going Drone for the Holidays? Make Insurance Part of Your Pre-Flight Check,” Insurance Information Institute.

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Attorney Marc L. Breakstone was quoted in a front-page Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article about common law liability for injuries caused by sidewalk defects. The current common-law standard dates back centuries and prohibits many plaintiffs from recovering compensation for injuries. But a recent Appeals Court ruling may have finally set the stage for change.

Attorney Breakstone welcomes the idea. “I think that the common law is a living body of principles that has to evolve as social conditions and the realities of life evolve,” he said.

20161128_sidewalkdefectEarlier this month, the Appeals Court ruled in the case of Halbach, et al. v. Normandy Real Estate Partners, et al., concurring that a Superior Court judge had correctly granted summary judgment to the defendant, 100 & 200 Clarendon LLC, which operated, leased and maintained the John Hancock Tower and a neighboring garage in Boston.

reza-breakstone-web.jpgBy Reza Breakstone

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.

Background
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.

Conclusion
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.

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Chipotle_Restaurant.jpgThe Chipotle Mexican Grill in Cleveland Circle in Brighton remains closed after a norovirus outbreak, which has reportedly sickened more than 120 Boston College students.

Most of us eat at restaurants and trust they are safe. But there are hidden risks for food-borne illnesses and food poisoning, such as unsafe handling of food, not keeping the premises clean, and allowing sick employees to work. While some illnesses pass in a day or two, others are more serious and results in visits to the ER, hospitalization and even death.

If you suspect food poisoning, it is important to visit a doctor and depending on the length and severity of your symptoms, consult an attorney about your legal rights.

The Chipotle Boston Case

Chipotle restaurants in the northwest and Maryland have recently been linked to 52 cases of E. Coli food poisoning. But the City of Boston’s initial testing showed the presence of norovirus at the Chipotle in Brighton.

The Brighton restaurant closed Monday after Boston College reported 30 students, including members of the men’s basketball team, became sick after eating there. A college spokesman has since raised the number to more than 120 students. City inspectors have cited Chipotle with three violations, including allowing a sick employee to work a few days prior to the outbreak and cooking chicken and steak below the required temperature of 140 degrees.

Norovirus causes acute gastroenteritis, the inflammation of the stomach or intestines or both. Symptoms include stomach pain and cramping, diarrhea, vomiting and headaches. E. Coli can have similar symptoms, but norovirus is a viral infection and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Doctors often encourage those who are infected to drink plenty of fluids as they recover to prevent dehydration. Norovirus is not typically fatal.

Boston College has tested its students for both E. Coli and norovirus, but test results have not been released publicly.

What to Know About Food Poisoning, Medical Care and Your Legal Rights

Food poisoning is more common than many realize. Each year, 48 million (or 1 in 6) Americans suffer some form of food poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While some cases make the news, many do not, even though 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from foodborne illness.

How Common is Norovirus?
Each year, 19 to 21 million people in the U.S. suffer norovirus, according to the CDC. Doctors treat nearly 2 million people as outpatients and another 400,000 people have to seek care from hospital emergency rooms.

How Long Will Norovirus Symptoms Last?
Symptoms often appear after one or two days and individuals may be sick for two to four days.

Where is Norovirus a Risk?
You can contract norovirus by contact with an infected person, touching infected surfaces or when an infected person handles food. It is airborne and can stick to surfaces. Because of this, norovirus can spread quickly in places where large numbers of people gather and pass through, such as restaurants, schools and daycare centers.

Last spring, more than 200 people contracted norovirus on two Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

Can I Sue for Food Poisoning and Norovirus?
As with any injury caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be able to file a lawsuit if you suffered food poisoning. But you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney to advise you on the law and your specific circumstances.
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More snowfall today just means more frustration for many of us in Massachusetts. Before today, the Boston area had already seen more than 53 inches of snow this winter, 10 inches more than the total annual average. Worcester is also close to setting a record, recording 72 inches, just four inches away.

Much of the snow has fallen hard during the past two weeks, during the Blizzard of 2015 and other storms. A Washington Post headline summed it up best: “Boston’s record-setting snow blitz – a winter’s worth of snow in less than 10 days.”

Those 10 days should be done now. But Mother Nature just keeps throwing down snow, though she gave the Patriots a reprieve, allowing them to hold their Super Bowl parade in Boston this week. But even the professional football team had to postpone a day to avoid the bitter cold and to let the City of Boston catch up on the clean-up.


More snow is expected this weekend. A few things to remember:

Clearing Snow from Your Property. Homeowners in Massachusetts have a responsibility to clear the snow and ice from their driveways, walkways and other areas of their property. It is important to make sure your family and others, such as friends, postal carriers and delivery workers, can safely visit your property without slipping and falling.

If someone slips and falls on your property, you could be held liable for damages, even if they are uninvited. For a long time, Massachusetts law regarding snow and ice injuries exempted property owners from liability if someone was injured as a result of snow that naturally accumulated and had not been cleared. But in 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court overruled this nearly century old rule. There is now a clear directive that Massachusetts property owners must remove snow and ice. The case is Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, SJC-10529 (July 26, 2010). Here is a past blog and a Lawyer Alert we wrote on the ruling.


Snow Blower. Make sure you read the instructions and understand your snow blower before using it in heavy snow conditions. If the snow blower is jammed DO NOT attempt to clear it by hand. Even if the blower is not running, it can have stored up mechanical energy that can deliver devastating injuries. Check with the manufacturer and the Consumer Product Safety Commission at the start of each winter to see if there have been any product recalls.

Here is a resource for safe use of snow blowers.


Shoveling Snow Safely. While you must clear the snow, you also have to be safe. Snow removal can lead to injuries, some minor and some very serious, such as heart attacks, dehydration, pulled muscles, broken bones from slip and falls and frostbite. Always consult with your doctor if you concerned about your ability to undertake this strenuous exercise.

If you shovel, drink plenty of water, stop periodically to stretch and dress in layers so you can easily remove one if you get overheated. Try to push the snow, rather than lift it, when you can. Here is an article about shoveling snow safely.


Driving and Taking Public Transportation. Be patient. Limit your time on the road if you can. The Governor of Massachusetts declared a state of emergency and travel ban during the recent blizzard. Many employers closed their offices then and since on other days of heavy snowfall.

When you have to travel, consider public transportation when you can or stagger your work day schedule if it helps and your employer allows this.

If you ride the MBTA, monitor the website, app or local TV stations. Red Line and Orange Line commuters faced significant delays this week, with 40 percent of the cars disabled for mechanical problems. Many commuters were left standing outside in the cold, waiting for trains or had to take buses. Systems are failing all over the state.


Walking. The snowbanks are tall and the roads narrow in many areas, making it hard to walk. If you must walk outside, wear visible clothing, including a bright safety vest if you have one, so you are visible to drivers. Walk on sidewalks and carefully look around snowbanks before stepping into the streets, even at crosswalks.

Watch out for regular traffic, as well as snow plows. A Weymouth woman was killed in a pedestrian accident this week when she was struck by a plow driver at her condominium complex.

Carry your cell phone in case of an emergency but do not use it while walking. Also do not wear headphones and listen to music when trying to face the complications of winter travel.
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201501016_staircase.jpgThe City of Boston has identified 580 potentially overcrowded student apartments across the city from data provided by colleges and universities, The Boston Globe recently reported. City inspectors will now investigate whether the units are violating city zoning rules, which bar more than four full-time undergraduate students from sharing the same apartment.

The city recently collected more than 25,000 student addresses from 31 colleges and universities so it can investigate potential apartment safety violations and overcrowding. If overcrowding is found, city officials plan to work with landlords and universities to move students to safer, alternate housing.

In 2013, Boston University student Binland Lee died in an apartment fire in Allston. She had been living at the Linden Street building with more than a dozen other people, a violation of city zoning rules. The Boston Globe Spotlight team later reported the property had been converted to a two-family home after a previous fire in the 1990s. This move blocked off a central staircase and restricted access. The building owner, Anna Belokourova, was later cited for running an illegal rooming house and not obtaining the permits needed to create bedrooms in the basement.

The Lee family has filed a wrongful death and premises liability lawsuit against Belokourova as well as Gateway Real Estate Group, which rented the apartment to her and six other housemates. Attorney Ronald E. Gluck of Breakstone, White & Gluck represented another woman who was seriously injured in the same fire.

In 2014, the Boston Globe Spotlight team investigated and found other instances of unsafe and crowded conditions for Boston students. It surveyed 266 students who lived off-campus in Boston and found nearly one-third were living in units with at least five undergraduate students, a violation of city zoning law.

Also from the survey:

  • 25 percent of students reported having trouble reaching their landlord to report safety concerns
  • 20 percent reported living without functioning smoke alarms
  • 33 percent reported a lack of heat in their apartments

As these safety violations happen, more students are coming to Boston and living off-campus than in the past. Colleges are facing a space crunch and neighbors have opposed many of their efforts to build new dorms. The Boston Globe estimated more than 45,000 Boston students lived in off-campus housing in 2013, a 36 percent increase from 2006.

Our attorneys have represented Boston college students and other tenants who have suffered serious injuries as a result of housing code violations and overcrowding conditions. Here are summaries from two recent cases:

Overcrowded Student Housing Fire in Allston, Massachusetts
Our attorneys represented a woman who was seriously injured in a 2013 fire in an illegal apartment in Allston, Massachusetts. More than a dozen college students were living at the home in violation of city zoning ordinances. Read about this case.

Students Injured in Escape from Quick-Spreading House Fire
Our attorneys represented one of two college students who were seriously injured a single-family home fire in Boston. One student suffered a brain injury when he jumped from a third-floor window to escape and landed on a concrete driveway. The other student broke her back and injured her ankle when she jumped off from the second floor. The case was settled at mediation. The case was reported by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly on May 29, 2014. Subscription required.

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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.
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