Articles Tagged with “wrongful death”

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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carseat-010314.jpgParents across the country are checking their backseats after Graco issued one of the largest child safety seat recalls in history this week. It may not be the last recall either; the Georgia-based company is facing pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recall 1.8 million additional seats.

Graco recalled 3.7 million car seats manufactured between 2009 and 2013, the fourth largest recall ever for safety seats and the largest in five years, according to media reports. The NHTSA announced Tuesday that Graco was voluntarily recalling 11 models, though the agency had sought recalls of 18 models. The agency has stated it could take legal action to force the recall of the other models, which are rear-facing models for infants.

The car seats have defective buckles, which can be difficult to unlatch or become stuck. Graco said it was not aware of any injuries resulting from the car seat, but the New York Times reports the NHTSA began investigating Graco in 2012, after parents complained to regulators about having to cut children out of the seats from straps. One parent said it took her 45 minutes to loosen the straps enough to pull her daughter out.

But there is at least one case of serious injury. In a Jan. 14 letter to Graco, the NHTSA noted the company was a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in which a two-year-old child was killed in a fire following a car crash. The child was traveling in a Graco Nautilus car seat. The company has said the wrongful death case was resolved by a confidential settlement agreement.

Read the full list of recalled car seats. Parents who have defective car seats can contact Graco for a free replacement buckle. Graco says the seats are safe to use until parents obtain a replacement, but the NHTSA is urging parents to find other seats until they receive the new buckles.

Parents want to be able to trust the car seats, strollers and cribs they use to care for their children. Because these are important purchases, many parents and family members spend time researching and reading consumer reviews on Internet shopping sites such as before purchasing.

These reviews are helpful, as is feedback from other parents. But there are a few other steps parents can take:

Mail in the product registration. You want to make sure the company knows you have its product and need to be notified of any defect or recall and be included in the remedy process.

Do your research. Search the NHTSA database for car seat recalls.

Car seat inspection. Visit this NHTSA website page to search for sites where you can get your car seat inspected. Watch as the certified professional fits your child’s car seat and what to watch as you go about your daily driving routine.

Check your product. Remember a few basics about all children products, from toys to car seats. First, make sure they do not have small parts which can easily break and become a choking hazard. Make sure your child can move freely in seats with straps. Make sure the product can fully support your child by reading the age and weight requirements.
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constructionworker v2.jpgA new pilot study measures the physical and emotional toll on New England’s construction workers – and researchers say more investigation is needed.

Construction workers face a high risk of physical injury on the job. In 2011, these workers accounted for 12 percent of all workplace deaths in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Construction accidents and injuries can happen when employers or construction site managers are negligent in complying with OSHA and other safety regulations, fail to properly staff a job or do not provide the necessary training.

The new study from Harvard School of Public Health shows 20 percent of the construction workers surveyed showed signs of being at risk for suicide. More than 40 percent had suffered one or more workplace injuries in the prior month.

The study was published online Oct. 1 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers say the findings show more detailed studies are needed to provide a better understanding of the high frequency of construction injuries and how they relate to mental distress. Researchers also want to focus on increasing literacy rates among construction workers and preventing suicide and suicide attempts.

Study Findings
In August 2012, the researchers surveyed 172 New England construction workers whose average age was 41 years old. They were questioned about psychological distress, depression, anxiety, job satisfaction, musculoskeletal use, injuries and alcohol and tobacco use.

Of these workers, 75 percent had experienced musculoskeletal pain over the past three months. In the month prior, 42 percent had reported one or more work injuries. When researchers followed up by phone with workers who fit the criteria for depression, 20 percent showed signs of being at risk for suicide. Some 16 percent reported they were distressed but the majority – nearly 60 percent – had sought no professional help.

When proper precautions are not taken, construction workers face numerous risks for physical injury and death. The most common causes are falls, electrocution, being struck by an object and being caught in or between equipment and buildings, according to the BLS. Nearly three out of every five construction workers are killed by one of these causes.

Here in Massachusetts
Here in Massachusetts, construction workers face the same risks. In 2012, 32 workers died on the job, including six construction workers, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), which reports figures annually each spring.

Over the summer, the state saw three tragedies. In August, a tree worker died from burn injuries in Holliston, after coming into contact with live wires. A week earlier, another tree worker suffered serious electrical burns in Chelmsford when he was hit by branches and live wires. In July, a 26-year-old construction worker was killed at a Plymouth construction site when a concrete form collapsed and crushed him beneath wooden frames.

MassCOSH is starting to collect new data on other risks to construction and other workers. In its most recent “Dying for Work” publication, it reported 320 Massachusetts workers died from occupational diseases. It estimated asbestos exposure caused over 90 deaths that year.

Construction workers struggle with pain, stress from injuries, Harvard School of Public Health.

Dying for Work in Massachusetts, April 28, 2013, MassCOSH
MassCOSH website.
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Walking while distractedDo you talk on your cell phone or read e-mails while walking? Many of us do. This practice – often called walking while distracted – can cause serious injuries to you and others around you.

There is good reason to think about pedestrian safety. After years of decreases, overall pedestrian traffic deaths have been on the rise in the U.S. In 2011, 4,432 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle accidents, an 8 percent increase from 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

That same year, 1,152 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries from walking and using a cell phone or electronic device, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance Company recently published a Pedestrian Safety Survey of over 1,000 adults. It reported 55 percent of respondents consider texting or e-mailing while crossing the street to be the most dangerous activity while walking.

This was even more than those who feel running across a street to beat oncoming traffic was most dangerous! Still, 60 percent of pedestrians reported texting, e-mailing or engaging in other behaviors while they walked, even though 70 percent considered the behavior dangerous.

Young people account for many of the distracted walkers. Safe Kids Worldwide, a non-profit organization, recently reported that it observed 34,000 children crossing the street near U.S. schools. One in five high school students and one in eight middle school students was distracted by a cell phone or electronic device.

A few tips for staying safe:

Put your cell phone away. Whenever you walk in a public area, put your phone in a bag or your briefcase. This includes supermarket parking lots, walking down the street on a sidewalk or waiting out at the bus stop with your child.

Don’t let the music distract you! Keep the volume low enough to hear traffic and other sounds around you. Do not adjust settings when crossing the street.

Step aside. It is best not to use your cell phone at all. But if you do, step away from the street and other pedestrians.

Crosswalks. Cars should stop at crosswalks for pedestrians, but do not take this for granted. Try and make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street and never pull out your cell phone while standing and waiting to use a crosswalk.

Never use a cell phone while crossing the street. This may sound obvious: Do not step into the street while you are reading or entering data or talking on your cell phone.

Watch out for bicycles. Cyclists can pass traffic on the right hand side and may be moving alongside traffic that has stopped. Be careful when stepping into the street.

Watch for other pedestrians. Realize that other people are probably going to be walking while using their cell phone and you have to anticipate them.


Put that phone down and just walk, The Boston Globe. Continue reading

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.

Other Cases
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.


Woman killed, firefighters and occupants injured in raging Allston fire, Boston Herald.

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.

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Toyota A month after being assessed a record $17.4 million fine, Toyota Motor Corp. has settled one of the first wrongful death lawsuits involving sudden and unintended acceleration by its vehicles.

The Japanese automaker confirmed last week it had reached an agreement with the family of Paul Van Alfen and his son’s fiancee, Charlene Jones Lloyd, for an undisclosed amount in the November 2010 accident in which they died, USA Today reported. The automaker said it has also settled another case filed under California’s lemon law by a retired Los Angeles police officer.

Van Alfen and Lloyd were killed in 2010 when the Toyota Camry they were traveling in on Interstate 80 in Utah suddenly accelerated. Van Alfen, the driver, attempted to stop the vehicle, but ran through a stop sign and into a wall. His other passengers, his wife and his son, were injured. The Utah Highway Patrol investigated and determined the car accident was the result of a sticking gas pedal.

Other Injury Lawsuits. The settlement comes as a group of lawsuits consolidated in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California moves forward. Prior to the consolidation, Toyota had also reached a $10 million settlement in a case involving an auto accident which killed a California police officer and his family.

The officer and his family were killed near San Diego in 2009 when their Lexus accelerated above 120 mph, struck an SUV, rolled off an embankment and burst into flames. The car accident was blamed on a improperly sized floor mat which was trapped in the accelerator.

More Than $1 Billion Settlement. In December 2012, Toyota agreed to a settlement worth more than $1 billion to resolve hundreds of lawsuits claiming economic losses by car owners affected by its recalls. In recent years, the car manufacturer has recalled more than 14 million vehicles due to acceleration problems and brake defects.

$17.4 Million Fine. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued Toyota a $17.4 million fine for safety defects in December 2012, the largest ever imposed. In 2010, the company paid a total of $48.8 in a series of three fines.

Toyota settles first wrongful death lawsuit, USA Today.

Toyota tackles acceleration lawsuits; questions remain, USA Today.

Toyota reaches $1 billion settlement in acceleration cases, USA Today.
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worker-electrical-200.jpgFifty eight workers lost their lives on the job last year in Massachusetts. The average fine in closed investigations into those deaths was less than $7,000.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released the figure in its annual report at Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28. In “Dying for Work in Massachusetts,” the group reported firefighters and construction workers again account for the majority of workplace deaths in Massachusetts. The group called for reforms such as strengthening OSHA regulations to prevent construction accidents and passing new state laws to protect temporary workers.

“It is deplorable that so many workers still die or are severely injured in workplace accidents,” said Boston personal injury lawyer David White of Breakstone, White & Gluck. “Employers must be held accountable when they fail to follow safety requirements and cause injuries or deaths.”

Breakstone, White & Gluck is a proud sponsor of MassCOSH, an organization with a great reputation for protecting workers and improving workplace safety.

In 2011 in Massachusetts, the average fine in the death of a worker was $6,490. MassCOSH said this low cost encourages employers to disregard OSHA regulations.

The group noted there is no consistent trend in the number of worker deaths. But in 2011, the number of workers lives’ lost rose 11, up from 47 in 2010.

Thirteen firefighters died in 2011, two as the result of injuries sustained while responding to fires. Another firefighter was crushed while performing routine vehicle maintenance. Ten others died due to work-related cancer and heart disease.

Construction accidents accounted for eight wrongful deaths. Deaths were also reported in the human services and commercial fishing industries.

MassCOSH reports workers are dying in four ways: motor vehicle accidents and incidents; construction falls; workplace violence and drowning. Falls from ladders, roofs and trees accounted for 20 percent of all workplace deaths. Construction accidents were involved in 14 percent of workplace deaths, including three men who were killed in electrocutions and explosions.

MassCOSH Reforms
The advocacy organization for workers’ rights is calling on state and federal lawmakers to make a number of changes. These include:

Proposed Changes at the Federal Level:

  • Strengthen OSHA regulations, with one measure including criminal prosecution.
  • Overhaul OSHA’s system for regulating toxic chemicals.
  • Better protect immigrant workers by increasing the number of bilingual investigators.
  • Improve whistleblower protections.

Proposed Changes at the State Level:

  • Full implementation of Executive Order 511, so all state agencies have committees which ensure national health and safety standards are being met.
  • Make improvements to Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws so coverage is provided to all injured workers.
  • Pass the “Temporary Worker Right to Know Law,” which would increase state oversight and ensure that temporary workers are provided written notice of job assignments, supervisors, wages and other key details.

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babyformulaB_200.jpgWalmart pulled Enfamil baby formula from more than 3,000 stores this week after a newborn’s death in Missouri.

Walmart voluntarily removed the cans of Enfamil Newborn from its store shelves on Monday night. The baby formula is under investigation by health officials after the 10-day-old baby boy’s death Sunday from Cronobacter, a bacteria linked to newborn illness and milk-based powder baby formula. The formula had been used by the baby’s family. A second infant was infected by the bacteria, but recovered.

The 12.5-ounce cans of Enfamil Newborn are marked with the lot number ZPIK7G. This includes at the chain’s 35 stores, 12 super centers and 2 Sam’s Club locations in Massachusetts.

The formula has been sent for testing to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the meantime, the Missouri Department of Heath and Senior Services is urging consumers who purchased the formula to return it to the store or discard it.

The manufacturer Mead Johnson said that the batch of infant formula used by the child’s family tested negative for Cronobacter when it was produced and packaged.

Mead Johnson and Walmart representatives say the companies are working with authorities. Neither of the companies has implemented a formal product recall. The government has not requested one.

Click here to read a recent news article about this product liability case.
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patientalarms_web.jpgAs the problem of alarm fatigue comes under increased scrutiny, Massachusetts General Hospital has implemented steps to improve the medical staff’s response to patient alarms and avoid unnecessary deaths.

Alarm fatigue at hospitals has received much attention in the past year as it has led to several patient deaths and illnesses throughout Massachusetts. Alarm fatigue is a type of medical malpractice caused when nurses and medical staff work among numerous alarms, many false, and grow desensitized to the many sounds and fail to respond to patients.

At Mass. General Hospital, an 89-year-old man died in January 2010 as he recovered from surgery and awaited implantation of a cardiac pacemaker. State and federal investigators reported 10 nurses on duty said they failed to hear alarms beeping at the central nurses’ station. The nurses also said they never saw ticker signs indicating the patient’s dropping heart rate on three hallway signs.

In April, Mass. General Hospital settled a medical malpractice claim made by the patient’s family for $850,000. After an internal investigation, the Boston hospital also implemented several improvements to reduce this form of medical malpractice, including disabling the off switches of 1,100 cardiac monitors, educating nurses about alarms and installing speakers so alarms are heard more clearly. The medical malpractice settlement was reported today by The Boston Globe on Nov. 28, 2011.

Another medical malpractice lawsuit is pending against Mass. General Hospital after a 47-year-old woman died in the hospital in January 2009. The state Department of Public Health found the patient’s cardiac monitor was not setting off alarms.

Other hospitals experiencing problems with alarm fatigue include UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. In September 2011, The Boston Globe reported the hospital had two wrongful deaths over the past four years due to failure to respond to patient alarms. In one case, nurses failed to respond to alarms for almost an hour. The hospital is now taking steps such as holding monthly drills for medical staff and arranging voluntary seminars and webinars for the hospitals 2,100 nurses.

The hospital has also started sending low-battery warnings to nurses’ cell phones and pagers for life-threatening changes in patients.

Hospitals are not alone in addressing the problem. Last month, the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration attended a summit in Washington D.C. In future months, they are expected to make recommendations for the medical community.
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pull_toy__1321458591_0639.jpgAs the holidays approach, the lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck, PC urge you to shop carefully to avoid dangerous toys.

Each year, companies recall thousands of toys that put children at risk for injuries such as strangulation, lacerations, falls and death. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the 34 toy recalls in fiscal 2011 were a marked decrease from 172 in 2008, but toy-related deaths rose slightly last year, with 17 children suffering wrongful deaths from defective toys.

In 2010, about 181,500 children were treated in emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. Non-motorized scooters continue to cause the most injuries, while toys with small parts and unsafe cords are also involved in many recalls.

Each year, a non-profit Boston organization, World Against Toys Causing Harm Inc., (WATCH) releases a list warning parents about the hazards of certain toys. The toys present hazards for burn injuries, strangulation injuries, and other bodily injury. This year’s “WATCH’s Most Dangerous Toys of 2011,” includes:

1) The Incredible Shrinky Dinks Maker

Potential hazard: Possible electric shock and burn injuries.

2) Sword Fighting Jack Sparrow

Potential Hazard: Possible eye and other bodily injuries.

3) ‘Gigan’ Godzilla Figure

Potential hazard: Possible puncture wounds.

4) Twist ‘n Sort
Potential hazard: Small parts cause a choking hazard.

5) Power Rangers Samurai Mega Blade
Potential hazard: Blade can cause injuries.

6) Fold and Go Trampoline
Potential hazard: Can cause injuries to people using it, including to the head and neck.

7) Pulling Animal Duck
Potential hazard: Potential for strangulation injuries.

8) School Bus
Potential hazard: Choking hazard.

9) Z-Curve Bow
Potential hazard: Danger to eyes.

10) Stepper ‘Low Rise” Stilts
Potential hazard: Head and other injuries from impact.

Click here to read more about this year’s WATCH list.

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