We all want to get through the COVID-19 crisis. The best way to make a positive impact is to stay home as much as possible. As you wait it out, remember you are living with temporary restrictions. But there are still some important steps you can take to help yourself, your family, community and local businesses now and in the weeks to come.
Wash Your Hands. This is a critical step, especially now. Read the CDC’s page, “When and How to Wash Your Hands.”
Protect Your Home and Family Members. The CDC has published an easy-to-print COVID-19 household checklist. Put this on your refrigerator or somewhere visible so everyone in your family can see it. Check out these other CDC advisories too: cleaning and protecting your home and managing stress and anxiety. Share these with family members so you can help each other keep up a routine, along with regular exercise and proper rest.
Social Distancing. Stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, stay at least six feet away from others. Don’t shake hands, hug or make physical contact.
Look for COVID-19 Messages on Business Websites. Look for COVID-19 messages on websites – before you visit the grocery store, pharmacy or any business. Many businesses are closed due to Gov. Charlie Baker’s “Stay-at-Home” – Essential Services Only order. Grocery stores and pharmacies remain open as essential services. Do your part as a customer and follow their guidelines to protect their hardworking employees and the public.
Connect. Stay connected to friends and family, especially older adults who live alone. Not just by social media or text messaging. Make regular contact by phone or even better, through a video chat tool. This way you can really see and hear how your loved ones are doing – and if they need your help in some way.
Follow State and Local Orders and Updates. As a Massachusetts resident, the best way to to stay informed is to watch the daily briefings from Gov. Charlie Baker. You can follow the Massachusetts state briefings on TV or online (www.mass.gov/covid19). You can also sign up for text messages (COVIDMA to 888-777). Another resource is the Massachusetts 211 website or you can call 2-1-1.
Also follow your town, city or child’s school on Facebook and local websites. Sign up for email newsletters. If you have an older parent – or a grown child living away from home – sign up for alerts about their community as well. Mention these notices to them and ask if they need help following the orders.
Housing. You should not have to move during this time. Landlords should not pursue evictions. The Housing Court has rescheduled all non-emergency matters until April 21, 2020 or later. The court vacated all default judgments entered between March 1 and April 21.
Everyone is struggling right now. Keep your cool, but also keep good records. Ask your landlord to put any instruction or request in writing even if that’s not your normal practice. Digitally file all e-mails or letters by date so you can easily access them (save them as PDF files). Still take photos and report serious safety violations so you are safe staying in your apartment.
Encourage family members who rent to keep neat files too – and ask them to share communications with their landlords with you as they come in. This way, you will know if they are safe, if you need to help and you won’t have to play catch up learning what happened.
This is also a stressful time for homeowners. Again, take a deep breath and remember you have legal rights. In Massachusetts, to start foreclosure, a mortgage lender must issue a homeowner a default notice and a 90-day “right-to-cure” period, during which you must make all your missed payments. Homeowners can also use this time to apply for a loan modification.
Legal Assistance. Breakstone, White & Gluck may be able to assist you with an injury claim. But there are many issues arising during the COVID-19 outbreak – about unemployment, housing, health insurance and other public benefits. During the COVID-19 outbreak, look online first. If you have a question, visit the Massachusetts Legal Answers website, operated by the American Bar Association.
If you would like to consult an attorney, visit the Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service.
Another resource is Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which accepts consumer complaints and can help explain your legal rights. Having trouble with a certain company? Call and ask how many others have lodged the same complaint and what steps you can take.
These resources can help you gain a few insights about Massachusetts law so you can decide whether you need a lawyer. With those insights, good record keeping and a commitment to be patient, you may be able to handle your problem without a lawyer.
Donate Blood. The American Red Cross is looking for healthy individuals to donate blood or platelets.
You can help by making an appointment to donate. Visit the American Red Cross website and search for blood drives in your area. Be prepared to be flexible and schedule an appointment a few days or weeks out due to the emergency situation. The American Red Cross has outlined safety protocols for collecting blood during the COVID-19 crisis. It also offers American Red Cross mobile apps to help you track blood donation appointments and follow other relief work.
Make a Financial Donation. We understand there is great financial uncertainty right now. But if you can, consider these funds and organizations which are helping Massachusetts residents. If you can’t donate, visit their websites and keep their work in mind.
You can read about more organizations in this Boston Globe article.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
Our Boston personal injury lawyers have over 100 years combined experience representing those injured by the negligence of others. Recognized by Top 100 New England Super Lawyers, Breakstone, White & Gluck specializes in all areas of personal injury law, including medical malpractice, car accidents, pedestrian accidents, bicycle accidents, traumatic brain injuries, product liability, premises liability, construction accidents, chemical exposure and gas explosions.
Our attorneys are committed to serving our existing clients and new clients remotely during the COVID-19 state of emergency in Massachusetts. For a free legal consultation, please call 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676. You can also use our contact form.
Free Legal Consultation: 800-379-1244
During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we want to assure you that Breakstone, White & Gluck is committed to providing uninterrupted service to all of our clients. We will be limiting staff in our Boston office while state and federal advisories are in place. But our attorneys are available by phone and email to our clients. We will continue to provide free legal consultation and case review by phone.
Please call us at 617-723-7676 or toll-free at 800-379-1244. You can also contact us through our website, www.bwglaw.com.
Our Practice Areas:
- Personal Injury Law
- Medical Malpractice
- Wrongful Death
- Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Construction Site Accidents
- MBTA Accidents
- Gas Explosions
- Bicycle Accidents
- Dog Bites and Dog Attacks
- Truck Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Premises Liability Accidents
- Pedestrian Accidents
- Spinal Cord Injuries
- Train Accidents
- Product Liability
- Defective Medical Devices
- Brain Injuries
- Burn Injuries
- Head Injuries
- Bus Accidents
- Snow and Ice Accidents
- Escalator and Elevator Accidents
- Food Poisoning
- Swimming Pool Accidents
- Liquor Liability and Dram Shop
- Laser Hair Removal Injuries
- Chemical Exposure Accidents
Usually we post blog entries about preventing accidents and safety issues. But here is something that is a serious matter of public health, and we want you to protect yourself!
The incidence of tick-borne illnesses is rising sharply in Massachusetts, in New England, and throughout the country. If not diagnosed and treated promptly, infections can lead to disabling injuries, brain damage, organ failure, and even death. Prompt diagnosis is key, but even more important: Avoiding tick bites.
Understanding tick behavior is the first line of defense. Ticks are active throughout the warm weather months, but even a warm day in February can bring them out. They are most likely to transmit disease in the spring and early summer when they are in their nymph stage (when they are young and smaller). Ticks lurk in leaf litter, tall grass, and on shrubbery, just waiting to hitch a ride on your skin and clothing. Then they wander around until they find a place to bite. They will attach themselves and suck your blood until they are fully engorged. And if they are carrying one of the many bacteria that can make you ill, it will be transmitted during this time.
There are several ways to protect yourself, including wearing insect repellent or clothing treated with permethrin, an effective insecticide that is safe to use. Prevent ticks from getting on your skin by wearing long pants and long shirts, and stay tucked in. Check for ticks after you have been outside. More on this below.
Tick Diseases are on the Rise
It’s unfortunate that we have to think about protecting against ticks. But it’s also necessary. Each summer brings more and more reports of tick-borne illnesses in Massachusetts and across the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 59,000 tick-borne diseases were reported during 2017 alone, more than 10,000 cases over 2016. More than 42,000 cases were Lyme Disease. According to the CDC, the number of U.S. counties considered at high-risk for Lyme Disease increased by more than 300 percent between 1992 and 2012.
Lyme Disease and Other Tick Diseases in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, several types of ticks are known to spread infection. These include the black-legged tick, most often known as the deer tick, the dog tick and the lone star tick (Source: Mass.gov).
Black-legged ticks can transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis (HGA), babesiosis and other tick-borne illnesses. These are all very serious illnesses which can leave an otherwise healthy person with chronic pain, an irregular heart rhythm and other symptoms. Some of these illnesses can even lead to death.
While we associate ticks with warm weather, black-legged ticks can bite year-round in Massachusetts. The young ticks (called nymphs) are most active during May, June and July. Adult ticks become more active during the spring and fall, but can bite anytime the temperature is above freezing. It’s easy to mistake nymphs for other insects because they are small, about the size of a poppy seed.
When black-legged ticks infect someone with Lyme Disease, the person may suffer fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscles and joint pain and swollen lymph nodes. About 4 out of 5 people will break out in a rash which is often a bullseye in appearance. In some cases, more serious symptoms emerge, including arthritis, heart palpitations, joint pain, nerve pain and problems with short-term memory.
Adult dog ticks are roughly the size of a watermelon seed and can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can lead to fever, headache, vomiting and rash in the first 3 to 5 days. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can result in death if left untreated.
Though it’s relatively rare in Massachusetts, dog ticks can also pass on certain types of tularemia, which results in skin sores and swollen glands. As for lone star ticks, it is important to guard against them because they can also cause rash, tularemia and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). But lone star ticks are not a significant source of human illness in Massachusetts at this time, according to the state website.
How to Protect Your Family
The best ways to protect yourself from tick bites and tick-borne illnesses is to be aware of potential exposure in the deep woods and tall grass, wear the right insect repellent and continuously check your skin throughout the day and at the end of the day.
- Use EPA-registered insect repellents which contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Use these products as instructed.
- Use insect repellent products with permethrin to treat clothing, socks, boots and tents. You can also look for products which have been pre-treated with permethrin. Follow the instructions for application carefully. Permethrin is applied to clothing, then allowed to fully dry. It is not meant to be sprayed on just before use. Treated clothing is effective for several washings. The good news is that the ticks that do climb on your treated clothing will die.
- Take extra caution when shopping for insect repellent products for children and those with medical conditions. Again, read product instructions.
- Children younger than 2 months old should never use products containing DEET. The CDC recommends putting babies in strollers covered in mosquito netting.
Understand How Ticks Infect
Ticks can contract bloodborne infections such as Lyme Disease by feeding on infected animals, especially white-footed mice. Then they carry these infections into your backyard and wait for their next prey. This could be you, your children, your guests or your pets.
Unlike other insects, ticks cannot fly or jump. They latch onto tall grass with their back legs, ready to climb on you when you pass by. This is called “questing.”
A black-legged tick can attach to your skin and feed on your blood for several days. Once the tick is done feeding, it will remove itself and find another person or animal to bite.
Avoid tall grass and shrubs, as well as the outer edge of your backyard. Ticks often camp out along well-traveled paths on your property, including near stony landscaping. Wherever you walk or hike this summer, walk in the center of the path.
The sooner you see a tick on your body and remove it, the better. According to the CDC, people who remove ticks within 24 hours can greatly reduce their risk of getting Lyme Disease.
Cats and dogs can bring ticks into your home. Talk to your veterinarian about how to protect your pets during the summer months. There is no evidence showing your pet can pass Lyme Disease onto you, but if your pet is bitten, they could suffer symptoms and you could be bitten as well. Since ticks can be carried into your home, be aware of exposure in your house.
Dressing Safely for the Outdoors
- Dress appropriately. Wear long-sleeves and pants when working in wooded areas. Tuck shirts into pants and pants into boots.
- Consider wearing white and other light colors if it helps you check for ticks easier.
- Another tip is you can use a lint roller on your clothes and shoes before you come inside.
- Take a shower as soon as you come inside. Rinsing ticks off before they bite is very effective.
- Toss your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks.
Checking for Ticks and Extra Precautions
- Conduct a full-body tick check once or more daily. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror so you can check your back and other areas of your body. Check along your hairline, inside and behind your ears, the back of your neck, all over your arms and armpits, legs, behind your knees and even between your toes.
- Parents should check children thoroughly for ticks every few hours. Teach children to regularly check their own arms and legs as they play.
- Look closely and remember, ticks are different sizes.
- If you see a tick, carefully remove it from your skin with a pair of tweezers. Pull it out with a steady hand so you remove it all at once. Then clean your skin with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- You should dispose of a tick just as you would anything else that’s poisonous. Place it in a sealed plastic bag or flush it down the toilet. If you are concerned that the tick was on you long enough to bite, you can seal the tick in a plastic bag for later testing.
Visit Your Physician and Get Prompt Treatment
There is a high risk for Lyme Disease in Massachusetts and other New England states. If you, your child or another family member were bitten by a tick, contact your physician immediately. Even if you don’t believe you are experiencing any symptoms, this is an important call to make. Your physician is knowledgeable about your medical background and the medications you are on and is in the best position to help you understand if you may need to take an antibiotic. If exposure to Lyme disease is considered a probability, your physician will likely prescribe a single dose of doxycycline as a prophylactic measure. It is very important to monitor yourself for symptoms of potential infection, including rash, headache, muscle or joint ache, or fever. If you are suspicious, seek prompt treatment to avoid more serious complications.
Use Reasonable Care and Good Sense
Don’t let the fear of ticks or other insects ruin a perfectly good summer. Use reasonable care and good sense, and you and your family should enjoy great outdoor fun.
During 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.
This is National Bike Month, when cyclists gather for events and rides all over the country. In Massachusetts, the busiest time is during Bay State Bike Week, which began last weekend. Cyclists from Boston to Springfield to Cape Cod are being encouraged to pedal to and from work in the name of fitness and reducing traffic congestion on the roads.
But along with the fun, Bike Month is a time to ask ourselves and lawmakers if we can make the roads safer to prevent personal injury to bicyclists.
While Boston has been called a world-class cycling city in recent years, safety advocates say we can do better. This month, the League of American Bicyclists dropped the state’s ranking from third to sixth in its 2013 Bicycle Friendly State Rankings, offering these and other suggestions to state officials:
Safe Passing Law. Adopt a safe passing law with a minimum distance of three feet to address bicycle safety.
Vulnerable Road User. Adopt a vulnerable road user law that increases penalties for motorists that injuries or kill bicyclists or pedestrians.
Cell Phone Ban for Drivers. Pass a cell phone ban for all drivers. Currently, Massachusetts bans all drivers from texting while driving but only bans drivers under 18 from talking on their cell phones and driving.
Bicycle Riders Manual. Create a statewide bicycle riders manual with laws, state bike routes and laws for cyclists.
MassBike, the state’s leading advocacy group for cyclists, has been seeking passage of a vulnerable road users bill that increases penalties for drivers who injure or kill a bicyclist or others defined as a vulnerable road user. MassBike first filed a bill with the Massachusetts Legislature in 2011 and refiled a few months ago for the start of the new legislative session.
Under the bill, drivers found guilty of crimes such as motor vehicle homicide or hurting or killing a person while driving drunk would face double the normal fines if the victim is considered a vulnerable road user.
The bill defines vulnerable road users as “a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, wheelchair, non-motorized scooter or any non-motorized vehicle, or a person riding a horse.”
Additionally, the bill would require violators to take a traffic class and perform 100 hours of community service related to road safety. There would be special penalties for drivers who harass vulnerable users with their vehicles. Meanwhile, victims would be given guidelines for filing civil lawsuits against drivers who assault or threaten them.
Another bill proposed by MassBike is the Bicycle Lane Bill, which would make it a violation for a car to park or stand in a marked bike lane. Boston and some other communities have bans, but MassBike seeks a statewide ban.
Read about other bills filed and supported by MassBike.
The fire on April 26, 2013 at 87 Linden Street in Allston, the second serious fire in less than two years on the same block, is a tragic reminder of what can happen with overcrowded, substandard student housing.
The Fire Marshall will now investigate the cause of the Allston fire. In addition, The Boston Inspectional Services Division should examine whether the unit was overcrowded in violation of the Boston Zoning Ordinance, and whether housing codes and accessibility codes were violated. Enforcement of city ordinances is, unfortunately, inconsistent, and usually after the fact. Knowing this, landlords and realty companies frequently violate these ordinances in the name of profits. The victims are often unsuspecting college students. As a result, students, who pay high rents, are subjected to increased risks from their overcrowded housing.
The law in Massachusetts governs how homes must be safely maintained in order to prevent personal injury to occupants of the property. In Boston, zoning ordinances require building owners to declare whether their properties are single-family or multi-family units. In either case, under Boston’s zoning ordinances, under the definition of “family,” no unit may be occupied by more than four unrelated students unless the building meets much stricter building requirements.
It is also generally illegal for a landlord to create bedrooms in basements, and it may be against code to create a bedroom in an attic. No matter how it is configured, every house or apartment must have working smoke detectors throughout the unit.
Once a unit exceeds the four unrelated-occupant threshold, it technically becomes a rooming house, which makes it subject to very strict fire-prevention regulations under M.G.L. c. 148, Sec. 26I and other regulations. For example, a rooming house must have walls and ceilings made from fire-rated materials to slow flames in the event of a fire. Smoke detectors must be in every bedroom,
and must be interconnected. Even more important, every boarding house must have a working sprinkler system. Boarding houses must also meet accessibility guideline and provide multiple means of egress for upper floors, which may include fire escapes.
Real estate brokers and leasing agents share responsibility for student overcrowding and exposure to risk from substandard housing. A quick look at any leasing agent’s website will reveal scores of units available for student occupancy which are intended to house more than four unrelated individuals. Leasing agents collect a single month’s rent, sometimes more, for their services. Since they also take the responsibility to collect signatures on leases, they know exactly how many students will be in the unit. Leasing agents simply cannot claim ignorance of the laws regarding overcrowding.
Who May Be Liable
It is our firm’s opinion that violations of the boarding house rules are evidence of negligence and may create liability for the responsible landlord.
We also believe that knowing and willful violations of the boarding house rules by real estate companies or leasing agents may subject them to liability as well. Violations of these standards may also be violations of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which may subject landlords and their leasing agents to multiple damages and attorneys’ fees.
Injuries and death from substandard housing may also lead to criminal charges against landlords. For example, in January 2012, two absentee landlords were convicted of manslaughter after a fire in an illegal apartment in Quincy led to the deaths of three tenants. The landlords were accused of wantonly violating building and fire codes.
The question of the enforceability of rooming house regulations is also pending at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In that case, civil claims were brought against a Worcester landlord for violation of the Worcester zoning bylaw. In that city, no more than four unrelated persons can occupy a home. The city brought the violation because there were more than four students in the unit. The decision in that case is expected to be handed down in the next few weeks.
Update: The City of Boston later cited the owner of the two-family structure, Anna Belokurova, for running an illegal rooming house and not obtaining the permits needed to create bedrooms in the basement, according to The Boston Globe. Read more.
One dead, 15 injured in Allston house fire, The Boston Globe.
Jury finds landlords guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Quincy apartment fire, The Patriot Ledger.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
Breakstone, White & Gluck of Boston has over 85 years combined experience represented injured clients in Massachusetts. If you or a loved one has been injured, learn your rights. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has moved a step closer to taking two dangerous magnet toys out of the hands of children.
On April 12, six retailers voluntarily recalled Buckyballs and Buckycubes. The stores included Barnes & Noble, Brookstone, some Hallmark stores, Marbles the Brain Store and Think Geek.
Maxfield & Oberton Holdings of New York City, the importer and distributor, refused to issue a recall last year, prompting the CPSC to file a lawsuit against the company in July to stop sales. The rare legal action – one of just four taken by the CPSC in the past 11 years – resulted in the company discontinuing its products in October. It stopped doing business in December.
The product was manufactured by Ningo Prosperous Imp. Exp. Co. Ltd. of Ningbo City in China.
Buckyballs and Buckycubes vary in size and color, but they are essentially a ball or cube of small powerful magnets. They were sold in containers of 10 to 216 magnets that can become loose. The first of the two products was introduced in the U.S. in March 2009. Since then, over three million sets of magnets have been sold in U.S. retail stores and online.
Maxfield & Oberton initially marketed Buckyballs to children, calling it “an amazing toy.” It later rebranded the magnet toys as an adult desk toy and stress reliever.
But while the magnets were being marketed to adults, the CPSC was still receiving reports that children were swallowing them. It has received 54 reports of injuries, all but one requiring medical treatment.
The CPSC’s July 25, 2012 complaint alleged that the magnet products had defective labeling and warnings, defective design, and posed a substantial product hazard.
The CPSC began working with the company on labeling three years ago, when the magnets were labeled for use by children “Ages 13+.” The agency said the magnets should have been marketed for age 14 and up.
Maxfield & Oberton changed the labeling and agreed to a voluntary recall of 175,000 magnet toys, but the CPSC said the injuries continued. In its complaint, it states, “…labeling and warning labels cannot guard against the foreseeable misuse of the product and prevent the substantial risk of injury to children.”
Company officials did not agree with the CPSC’s action. In October, they posted a statement on their website that read in part: “We’re sad to say that Balls & Cubes have a one-way ticket to the Land-of-Awesome-Stuff-You-Should-Have-Bought-When-You-Had-the-Chance.”
Over the past few years, the CPSC set up a Magnets Information Center on its website to educate the public about the danger of swallowing magnets.
The risk is that if a child ingests more than one of the powerful magnets, they can become attracted to each other while in the intestines, pinching tissue and damaging the intestinal walls. This can result in a wide range of symptoms, including vomiting, abdominal pain, infection and death. Surgery is often required and becomes more complicated because the magnets can stick to the metal surgical tools.
And in some cases children ingested more than one or two. CBS News reported the case of a 3-year-old Oregon girl who swallowed 37 Buckyballs. The CPSC complaint details cases of other young children who have swallowed numerous magnets.
If you exercise at a health club, you may not be aware that Massachusetts law protects you in many ways from unlawful club contracts. But many local health clubs – yours may be included – are regularly violating the law.
Health clubs are serving larger numbers than in the past. Over 50.2 million Americans now hold gym memberships, a 10 percent increase over the past three years, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.
The industry has been known to make it challenging for members to cancel or put their memberships on hold. Sometimes, after you sign the cancellation agreement, they require you to pay until month’s end, then another full “last month.” In addition to monthly membership fees, many are also now adding new fees for “annual” memberships and equipment maintenance. Some are even charging cancellation fees up to $200. This is still legal in Massachusetts, though not at all consumer friendly.
But did you notice the fees clearly posted the last time you visited your gym? If not, your gym is violating the law. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation recently inspected 15 local health clubs and found none were displaying fees or informing consumers of their right to cancel within three days, according to WBZ-TV. The office is referring the results to the state Attorney General’s office.
Health clubs cannot ask a member to sign a waiver of liability but, surprisingly, many still do. While waivers of liability, also known as releases, are generally enforceable in Massachusetts, G.L. c. 93, Sec. 80 specifically states, “No contract for health club services may contain any provisions whereby the buyer agrees not to assert against the seller or any assignee or transferee of the health club services contract any claim or defense arising out of the health club services contract or the buyer’s activities at the health club.”
This means gyms have a duty to properly maintain their premises and equipment and make sure they are being used in a safe manner, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. If they do not, and they were negligent, they may be responsible for your damages. If you have been injured in a Massachusetts gym, the court should find the liability waiver void. Over the years, our injury lawyers have successfully challenged these agreements.
Gyms also cannot ask members to sign up for terms longer than 36 months or require that members agree to financing that lasts longer than one month beyond the membership period. Members cannot be required to agree to monthly automatic withdrawals from a bank account.
If you are joining a gym, the best thing you can do is read the fine print on your member agreement before signing. Research the organization online through your local Better Business Bureau website.
Consumer remedies for health club violations are limited. No health club will be permitted by the courts to enforce an illegal contract. A consumer may bring claims under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, G.L. c. 93A, but damages will usually be nominal, although attorneys’ fees would be available.
Recent Court Ruling
The possibility of class actions was virtually eliminated by the recent ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court in Tyler v. Michaels Stores, Inc., 464 Mass. 492 (2013). An invasion of a consumer’s rights may be a violation of G.L. c. 93A, but unless the consumer has suffered a separate, identifiable harm arising from the violation, there will be no remedy. This case put a disappointing crimp into collective consumer action to prevent violations of the Consumer Protection Act, leaving overworked state officials to take up the slack.
Halloween is a much-anticipated night for children across Massachusetts, who are excited about dressing up as ghosts and goblins, going trick-or-treating and attending costume parties. Parents have a responsibility to protect children by talking to them beforehand about appropriate behavior and dangers to avoid. Here, the Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck of Boston offer tips to help parents and all adults keep the Halloween experience safe and fun for our youth:
- Never let young children go trick-or-treating without adult supervision.
- Take children for a test run of the trick-or-treat walking route during daytime hours.
- Remind children to look both ways before crossing the street and to utilize crosswalks when possible.
- Parents and children should always walk on sidewalks.
- Children should carry flashlights or glow sticks and wear reflective tape.
- Watch out for trick-or-treaters! Drive below the speed limit in residential areas and do not pass stopped vehicles in the roadway.
- Inspect treats before consumption. Discard all homemade goods and candy that poses a choking hazard.
- At your home, leave candles, pumpkins and lanterns in a place where no one can trip and injure themselves.
- Make sure costumes are flame-resistant and will not cause children to fall or trip.
- Click here for information on safe costumes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
A New Warning About One Type of Halloween Candy
A new government warning issued this week caught many by surprise as families prepare for Halloween. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported there is a link between black licorice and an irregular hearth rhythm. If you’re 40 or older, eating two ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia.
The FDA says black licorice contains the compound glyrrhizin, which can cause the body’s potassium levels to fall. This can trigger abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, edema, lethargy and congestive heart failure.
The good news? Licorice lovers can enjoy their candy in moderation. And if you have ever enjoyed too much licorice and experienced health problems, they are unlikely to reoccur unless you once again eat more than the recommended licorice limit. The FDA says all health complications end when black licorice consumption stops.
A new pilot program shows drivers in three Massachusetts communities are failing to stop for school buses, a violation of state law and a safety concern as students prepare to head back to school.
The program is underway in Medford, Quincy and Seekonk, where school buses have been equipped with video cameras behind the vehicle’s long stop-sign arm. The cameras capture the license plates of cars which violate the law and cause school bus accidents.
In Medford, the cameras captured 112 motor vehicle violations in 105 days, according to The Boston Globe. Some 57 violations were recorded over 55 days in Quincy while Seekonk had 45 violations over 53 days.
Under Massachusetts law, drivers cannot be issued citations based solely on video evidence. A police officer or bus driver must observe the violation and testify to it. Fines start at $250 and drivers with two or more offenses can have their license revoked.
Massachusetts is one of many states that allow traffic cameras, but they are currently only used to catch toll-evading drivers on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Proposed legislation aims to prevent school bus accidents by allowing cities and towns to submit video footage as evidence.
Drivers can keep children safe and avoid motor vehicle citations by paying close attention this September. The Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck offer these safety tips to prevent school bus accidents:
- State law requires drivers to stay at least 100 feet behind a school bus at all times.
- Drive slowly and watch for children walking in the street, especially in areas with no sidewalks.
- Watch for children playing at bus stops.
- Yellow flashing lights signal the bus is slowing down to stop.
- Red flashing lights and an extended arm indicate the bus is stopped to let children on or off.
- Do not start driving again until the stop arm folds back up and the bus starts moving.
- Do not attempt to pass a school bus.
- Watch for children when backing out of your driveway. If you see children, ask them to move to the sidewalk until you drive away.
Click here for the state law on driving near school buses in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts motor vehicle accident lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck are experienced in handling all types of traffic cases, including school bus accidents, pedestrian accidents and crosswalk accidents. Contact their Boston office today.