Hoverboards and Drones Bring Safety Risks

hoverboard.jpgDespite fires and hard falls, the hoverboard was one of the year’s most popular gifts.
Reports of hoverboard fires began before the holidays. Amazon even told consumers to return some models in mid-December and notified sellers that they must provide documentation showing hoverboards are compliant with safety standards. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) opened an investigation on Dec. 16th, after reports of 10 hoverboard-related fires in Washington, California, New York and other states. The fires often happen during charging.

The CPSC has also received dozens of reports of hoverboard-related falls from hospital ERs, including concussions, fractures and internal organ injuries. Christmas Day brought more injuries, revealed as photos and videos were posted to social media.

Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida fell when he tried out his daughter’s hoverboard. He tweeted a photo of himself wearing a sling:

“Confirmed – #hoverboard is for kids. My daughter got it. I ended up in @BaptistHealthSF #ER. #hoverboardChristmas.”

We do not think this product is safe for any age. But we agree with his colleague, Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who tweeted back: “Ouch. At least it didn’t catch on fire!”

News Headlines
One headline from the Washington Post: “Thanks for ruining Christmas, hoverboards.” Below is a video from the report.

Our Thoughts

This is a dangerous product and safety concerns need to be addressed. If you received one, consider returning it. If you keep it, follow instructions for charging it. Do not charge it overnight or while you are outside the home. Also, remember most airlines have banned hoverboards due to the fire risk.

If you do ride, always wear a proper helmet and padding while using this product. Ask what the local traffic laws are before use.

Many people also received drones as holiday gifts. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicted more than 1 million drones would be gifts on Christmas Day.

drone-186.jpgOn Christmas Day, photos and videos of drones crashing on the ground, into the neighbor’s roof and even into other family members filled social media. Read this Washington Post report, “Wear a Helmet: All those Christmas Drones are Falling Out of the Sky.”

The FAA has set up a website to register drones. Anyone with an aircraft weighing from a half-pound to 55 pounds must register with the FAA. Drone owners who are 13 and older must register on the FAA website. Parents with younger children are expected to register on their behalf.

Drone Owners Must Take Care
There are serious concerns about drones interfering with airplane traffic, but there are also very real concerns about general transportation safety. Drone owners must take care to be sure that they do not interfere with traffic, bicyclists or pedestrians. Be considerate and be aware of local laws and ordinances related to drone use.
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City of Boston Will Inspect Addresses Where Students May Be Living in Overcrowded Conditions

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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MassBike Video Answers Safety Questions for Cyclists and Drivers

MassBike recently released a new training video which answers many common questions about the laws for cyclists and drivers. The video is very well-done and offers some good re-enactments. We encourage you to watch it.

The 11-minute video is called Shifting Gears: Bicycles & Public Safety and was developed by MassBike in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Boston Police Department and Boston Police Academy. The video was developed to train police officers on how to enforce the law.

The video explains M.G.L. c. 85, § 11B and M.G.L. c. 90, § 14, the laws regarding a bicyclist’s rights on the road and the obligations of motorists. A few topics covered: where a bicyclist is allowed to ride, the illegal practice of dooring a bicyclist, and how drivers must yield to cyclists. It also touches on sidewalk riding, red lights and stop signs (cyclists have to stop too) and other areas of the law.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Watch the Fox 25 News Boston interview.

Read more about the social host liability law on our website.
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December Product Recalls Include Holiday Decoration, Baby Carrier

december-2014-recalls-3.jpgThe Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced several recalls last week, including a popular holiday decoration and two children’s products. The commission also announced its annual list of winter-related products which were recalled during other seasons.

Yankee Candle Ring
The Yankee Candle Company recalled about 15,000 pine berry candle rings in the U.S. and 2,000 in Canada. They pose a fire risk because of the synthetic foliage, berries and cones ornamentation. No injuries have been reported. The recalled rings were sold in Yankee Candle and Hallmark stores nationwide from September 2013 through October 2013. They were sold for between $8 and $10 at these stores, as well as through Yankee Candle catalogs and Yankeecandle.com. Consumers are asked to return candles to the nearest Yankee Candle store for a full refund. See the CPSC recall notice.

Playtex Hip Hammock Infant Carriers
Playtex is offering parents a full refund after recalling a baby hammock-style carrier. Playtex Hip Hammock infant carriers were recalled because they pose a fall hazard to children. About 305,000 baby carriers were recalled in the U.S. and 36,000 in Canada.

The company received 87 reports of the product’s buckles cracking or breaking. Two reports involved injuries, including one infant who required care at a hospital emergency room.

Consumers are instructed to stop using the carrier and contact Playtex for a full refund. These carriers were sold from June 2004 to December 2008 in the U.S. and through January 2010 in Canada. Purchase price was about $40 for the basic model and about $60 for the deluxe model.

In the U.S., the baby carrier was sold at Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Amazon.com and other baby and discount stores.

The carriers are designed for children 15 to 35 pounds and are made of a suede fabric in black and navy. They have black, black and white check and burgundy lining on the inside. Read the CPSC recall notice for model numbers.

Cubetensils Children’s Eating Utensils
Edoche Inc. recalled about 1,100 children’s spoon and fork sets because the handle can detach, posing a choking hazard for infants. The Seattle, Wash. company received one report of a handle detaching and a baby putting it in their mouth. No injuries were reported.

The utensils were sold in seven different designs and patterns from May 2012 through November 2013 for about $8 per set. They were sold at retailers and specialty stores nationwide, along with Amazon.com and ebay.com. Consumers can contact Edoche for a full refund. Read the CPSC recall notice for more information.

Consumer Product Safety Commission Website
If you have never used this website, it is a great tool to become familiar with in the New Year. You can find the latest product recalls and more information about ones you learn about in the news. But often, product recalls are not picked up by the news media so it is important to seek out the information yourself periodically. If you use Facebook, you can also stay up-to-date by following our page, where we often report on recalls.

Boston Massachusetts Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice Lawyers | Promote Your Page Too

Here is one page from the CPSC website which may help you now: “Check for These Winter Products Recalled Last Summer.”
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Are You Ready for Winter Driving?

car-snow-200.jpgWinter is almost here! We have already seen the first snow flurries in Massachusetts, and it is time for drivers to get prepared for winter driving.

Each year, over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in car crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. During snowfall, nearly 900 people are killed in accidents and 76,000 are injured.

Stay safe on the roads this winter. Our Boston car accident lawyers share these tips:

Slow Down! Reduce your speed. When it snows, if you are traveling the speed limit, you are probably traveling too fast for road conditions and are at risk for causing a car accident.

Leave Extra Distance. It takes longer to stop on snowy and icy roads. Increase your following speed to 10 seconds.

Clear Snow and Ice. Make sure your car and windows, including your headlights and turn signals, are free from all snow and ice when you drive.

Gas. Keep your gas tank at least half-full throughout the winter.You will be prepared in case of a serious storm, and you can make sure your gas lines do not freeze up.

Check Your Tires. Inspect your tire tread to make sure your tires are ready for winter. Also, check your tire pressure once a month in the winter.

Exhaust. Keep your exhaust pipe clear of snow.

Practice After the First Snow Storm. On the first icy, snowy day, find a big parking lot that is empty and practicing your skills for handling skids.Teach the new drivers in your home to control a skid the first chance you get.

Highways. If the roads are still being cleared, travel in the lane which has most recently been plowed and avoid changing lanes.

No Cruise Control. Do not use cruise control on slippery roads.

Pedestrians. Remember you may not be able to see pedestrians around snow banks. Reduce your speed and take an extra minute to check for them at intersections.

Check Your Auto Insurance. Check your auto insurance policy. Many people do not have enough insurance to pay their medical bills if they were injured on the road. A few important coverage types to ask your agent about: Underinsured, Uninsured and Medical Payments coverages. Read our attorneys’ article.
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Child Passenger Safety Week September 15-21

Child in passenger safety seat

Many parents follow the law and fasten their children into child passenger safety seats. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says three out of four are doing it incorrectly, leaving children vulnerable to serious injuries.

There is a lot of confusion about child passenger safety seats. They are challenging for parents to position and laws change every few years. Additionally, each state has its own law. But they are important. Child safety seats reduce the risk of death for infants by 71 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The figure is 54 percent for toddlers ages 1 to 4.

September is a good time for parents to have their child’s passenger safety seat inspected for free. The NHTSA and communities across the country will hold Child Passenger Safety Week is Sept. 15 – 21. Sept. 21 is National Seat Check Saturday. You can search this database or this website to find a child seat inspection station near you (we suggest you call in advance to check).

There are inspection stations in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and many other Massachusetts communities. These technicians should be certified and trained in the NHTSA curriculum. Some stations, such as local police departments, are often available to help parents throughout the year if you call for an appointment.

Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Law
The Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Law requires all children to use child passenger restraints until they are 8 years old or over 57 inches tall (4′ 9″). Up until 2008, the law only required children under 5 years of age and 40 lbs to ride in a safety seat.

There are four types of car seats: infant carrier seats, rear-facing convertible seats, forward-facing seats and booster seats, for children ages 4 until they are 8 years old in Massachusetts. When children turn 8 and are 57 inches tall, they can move into a seatbelt. The state recommends children travel in the backseat wearing a seatbelt until they are age 13.

Use of a booster seat reduces the risk of fatal injury for children ages 4 – 8 by 55 to 67 percent compared to unrestrained children and adults, according to a recent article in the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Another Change in Law May Be Coming
Another change may be coming for child passenger safety seats, but if so, the requirement will not be effective until February 2014.

The NHTSA has proposed that a child car seat be secured by a seat belt and top tether rather than the Latch system, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2002, the Latch system became a federal requirement and new cars had to have anchor points between cushions so child safety seats could be secured.

The reason for the change is car seats were lighter a decade ago. Children were not required to use them for as many years as they are under today’s laws. The changes would include new labeling for car seats identifying the weight limits. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association represents child seat makers and is asking for the new requirement to be suspended and instead for the weight limits to be increased for the back seat anchors.


Child Passenger Safety Week

Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Law

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Court Ruling on MedPay Coverage Favorable to Massachusetts Drivers

Car windshieldThe Supreme Judicial Court recently issued a ruling favorable to Massachusetts drivers on the subject of medical payments coverage in the standard Massachusetts automobile insurance policy.

Medical payment coverage, often called MedPay, is one of eight optional coverages which drivers can purchase on their auto insurance policy. All Massachusetts drivers are required to purchase compulsory coverage, which includes $8,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. They can also purchase other optional coverage types, such as MedPay. This pays co-pays and deductibles not covered by PIP benefits and medical services not covered by your health insurance policy.

In Golchin vs. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, SJC-11305, the plaintiff suffered serious personal injuries traveling as a passenger in her husband’s car. Her medical expenses exceeded $100,000.

The car was insured by Liberty Mutual and the policy had up to $25,000 in optional MedPay benefits. Golchin had a health insurance policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield, which paid her medical bills (expenses totaled $100,883, but Blue Cross actually paid $32,033). Blue Cross placed a lien in this amount on any award Golchin received from her car accident case.

Golchin submitted documentation of medical expenses to Liberty Mutual, seeking coverage under MedPay. The insurance company refused the payment, claiming it was not required since Blue Cross had already paid the bills. When she settled her personal injury case, Golchin had to pay Blue Cross $32,033 out of her award to satisfy the lien, even though she had MedPay coverage.

Golchin filed her lawsuit in Worcester Superior Court in September 2008, alleging a breach of contract, a breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and a violation of G.L. c. 93A, § 2.

In its August 8, 2013 decision, the Supreme Judicial Court held that Liberty Mutual could not avoid the payment of the medical payments coverage, and that the standard Massachusetts auto insurance policy provided for payments to the insured even when the health insurance company had made the payment.

There was certainly no unjust enrichment of the plaintiff in this case; all she got is what she had already paid for, and the auto insurance payment will only replace some of what was paid to the health insurance company to satisfy its lien.

Did you know that health insurance companies can recover their payments from your bodily injury claim? Most clients are stunned when they realize that their health insurance company can demand repayment of the bills that they paid. So even if you have great health insurance, the company will claim a lien on any personal injury case you have, and has the right to get paid, even before you do, and even if the settlement amount is not enough to cover all of your damages. Some insurance companies will negotiate their liens; others are not so sympathetic. Medical payments coverage on an auto policy is a good way to insure against lien repayments, and the cost of the coverage is very low.

Do you have MedPay coverage?
Ask your auto insurance agent if you have MedPay coverage. To learn more, read: Understanding and Buying Massachusetts Car Accident Insurance.
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Toys Recalled in Summer 2013 Pose Choking Hazard, Injury Risks

Toys recalled in summer of 2013
If you have young children, you have probably logged a few hours watching them play this summer. This joy of parenthood comes with an important responsibility: to make sure their toys are safe.

In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates the toy industry. Toys for children 12 and under are required to pass third-party testing and certification, but each year, defective toys still make it to store shelves and cause serious injuries and deaths. In 2011, more than 260,000 children were treated for toy-related injuries in the hospital emergency room and 13 were killed, according to the CPSC.

If you are a parent, be vigilant. Start by inspecting your children’s toys every time they play. Check the age labeling. Make sure they are no small parts that pose a choking hazard. When in doubt, set the toy aside and have your children play with something else.

Another way to protect your children is to stay informed. You may not see every toy recall on the TV news, but can visit the CPSC website and social media sites for news on toy recalls. A few recalls from this summer include:

Baby Einstein Musical Motion Activity Jumpers
Kids II voluntarily recalled about 400,000 Baby Einstein Musical Motion Activity Jumpers earlier this month. Another 8,500 activity seats have been recalled in Canada. The toy is linked to 61 injuries.

The hazard is when infants reach out and play with one of the attached toys (the toy with the smiley face), it rebounds back.

Kids II received 100 incident reports, including the 61 injuries. Injuries included bruises, facial lacerations and a 7-month-old boy who sustained a lineal skull fracture. In one case, an adult suffered a chipped tooth.

Kids II, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia, is the product importer. The toy was manufactured in China prior to November 2011. Kids II will replace the defective part for consumers for free. Many models were sold at Target, Toys R Us and Amazon.com between May 2010 and May 2013. Recall notice.

Kolcraft Jeep Liberty Strollers Kolcraft recalled 96,000 strollers in the United States after 39 reports of defective wheels. The inner tube can rupture, causing the wheel rim to fracture and fly off as a projectile. The reports included 18 injuries, most of which occurred when an adult attempted to fill a tire with air. Children and adults reported suffering lacerations, abrasions and contusions.

The stroller was manufactured in China. Kolcraft Enterprises, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois was the product importer. It was sold at Burlington Coat Factory, Sears and Toys R Us and other retailers from June 2010 to June 2013 for between $150 and $180.

Consumers are advised to stop using the defective stroller and contact Kolcraft for free replacement wheels. Recall notice.

“Buff Baby” Baby Rattles
In June, Fred & Friends announced the voluntary recall of 47,500 “Buff Baby” baby rattles in the United States. The rattles, which are designed to look like a dumbbell weight, are designed for children 3 months and older. The rattles were recalled because they pose a choking hazard to young users. The cap can separate and expose the plastic pellets inside to infants. Fred & Friends received two reports of this happening, but no injuries.

The rattles were sold in specialty toy and baby stores nationwide and in Canada, as well as online through Amazon.com and other websites from October 2011 through June 2013.

Consumers are advised to stop using the rattles and contact Fred & Friends for a full refund. Fred & Friends, which is located in Cumberland, Rhode Island, is the distributor. The toy was manufactured in China. Recall notice.

Thermobaby Bath Seats Recalled Due to Drowning Hazard
The Aquababy Bath Ring was recalled after the CPSC determined it does not meet federal safety standards. The product is supposed to hold children secure in the bath, but the design poses a risk for tipping over.

SCS Direct Inc. of Milford, Conn. voluntarily recalled 7,500 of the bath seats. There were no injuries involved in this recall. The seats were designed for children five months to ten months old. It was sold through Amazon.com. Consumers are advised to stop using the product and contact SCS Direct for a $35 refund. Recall notice.
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Amusement Park Accidents are Investigated Differently in Massachusetts and Texas

Roller coaster

When a woman was killed at a Texas amusement park last week, many expected answers from a state or federal investigation. But the federal government has no authority over amusement park rides and as it turns out, Texas does not investigate serious injuries and deaths in these cases.
The Dallas woman died when she was thrown from the Texas Giant roller coaster at the Six Flags Over Texas park in Arlington. The amusement park is now investigating her death on its own. According to a NBC News report, in Texas, the state Insurance Department sets regulations for amusement park rides and handles independent inspections of new rides. But annual safety inspections are handled by an inspector hired by the park’s insurance company. The state does not intervene unless the park’s insurance is in question.
Many have long sought federal oversight of amusement park rides, which sent an estimated 37,000 people in the U.S. to emergency rooms with injuries in 2011, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 
As a congressman, Sen. Edward Markey, (D-Massachusetts), introduced several bills to establish that authority over the past decade, but none were passed. There are uniform safety standards for amusement park rides set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), but those are voluntary. 
Some states do not require any inspection or permit for amusement park or carnival rides. Certain states leave cities to set their own ordinances, while others like Vermont, are satisfied if an operator provides proof of liability insurance. As in Texas, other states require inspection without extensive state oversight, including some with large amusement park industries. In Florida, parks with 1,000 full-time employees can handle their own inspections.
Massachusetts Law on Amusement Park Accidents
We have a few amusement parks in Massachusetts: Six Flags New England in Agawam, Edaville Railroad in Carver as well as Canobie Lake nearby in New Hampshire. Many of us also enjoy carousels, ferris wheels and other rides at visiting carnivals each summer. 
In Massachusetts, amusement and carnival rides are all regulated by the Department of Public Safety under M.G.L. c. 140 § 205A. Operators are required to provide proof they have obtained liability insurance and have annual inspections. If someone is injured due to a defect in an amusement ride, it is shut down. Injuries are investigated by state inspectors. The insurance company, as well as the Department of Public Health, must sign off before the ride is re-opened. 
In 2004, the state investigated the death of a 38-year-old man in the spinning Sizzler ride at a church fair in Shrewsbury. Two others suffered serious personal injury. The state determined the man’s lap belt restraint was defective and cited Jaro Amusement for not keeping proper maintenance records.

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