“The Importance of Optional Insurance Coverage for Motorcycle Operators”

Posted in Blog, Insurance, Personal Injury by on July 27th, 2015

Patricia Alexandre, Esq. | Law Clerk

Homestead-Massachusetts-Taunton-AttorneyWith the warmer weather here and the days longer, you will notice many people taking their motorcycles out for a ride. Although this may be a source of fun and entertainment, accidents can happen at any time. In the event of an accident, most drivers believe if they have motorcycle insurance, they are automatically covered for medical bills and other related expenses; however, this is a common misconception. Therefore, it is imperative to be educated and have the proper insurance coverage for your motorcycle as well as yourself.

In Massachusetts, every person who owns an automobile is required to have automobile insurance. There are two basic categories of insurance, Compulsory Insurance and Optional Insurance. Massachusetts requires you by law to purchase Compulsory Insurance which covers Bodily Injury to Others, Personal Injury Protection, Bodily Injury Caused by an Uninsured Auto, and Damage to Someone Else’s Property. Massachusetts requires that every automobile insurance policy provide Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. PIP benefits are designed to provide reimbursement for medical bills, and other related expenses regardless of who is at fault within the first two years following the car accident in which you were injured. Through your automobile insurance policy, PIP benefits are available to the insured driver, any passenger in the insured’s vehicle, or any pedestrian struck by the insured’s vehicle. The amount of PIP benefits available depends on whether or not the injured party has health insurance. If the injured party has health insurance coverage, PIP benefits will cover the first $2,000 of medical and related expenses. If the injured party does not have health insurance coverage or has insurance coverage by a publically funded plan, like Mass Health, Medicaid and Medicare, PIP benefits will cover up to $8,000 in medical and related expenses.

Massachusetts requires Compulsory Liability Insurance for all registered motorcycles, with minimum requirements of $20,000 per person, $40,000 per accident for bodily injury to others and $5,000 for property damage for property damage coverage. However, PIP benefits are NOT AVAILABLE to motorcycles, unlike automobiles. No insurance company is required to provide PIP benefits for motorcycle owners, operators or passengers who suffer bodily injury. Only, pedestrians struck by motorcycles are entitled to PIP benefits.

There are Optional Insurance coverages that may be purchased by motorcycle operators. Some include: Optional Bodily Injury to Others, Medical Payments and Bodily Injury Caused by an Underinsured Auto. Since PIP is not available to motorcycle operators, the most important Optional Insurance Coverage is Medical Payments. Under this option, the insurance company will pay reasonable expenses for necessary medical and funeral services incurred as a result of an accident, expenses resulting from bodily injuries to a passenger at the time of the accident and expenses resulting from bodily injuries to the insured or any household member if struck by an automobile or if occupying someone else’s auto at the time of the accident. Medical Payments can be purchased in varying amounts ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

Ultimately, it is vital that motorcycle operators have sufficient insurance to cover medical treatment and related expenses sustained as a result of a motorcycle accident. Moreover, it is important to be educated and understand the importance of Optional Insurance Coverage in the event of an accident.

If you are in an accident and need help understanding your insurance coverage, please call the attorneys at Wynn & Wynn, P.C. at 1.800.852.5211 or request a free consultation.

Cars Not Properly Cleaned Off After Snow Storms

Posted in Blog, Personal Injury by on February 5th, 2015

Massachusetts-Defective-Toys Winter has officially arrived here in Massachusetts and with all New England winters come perilous road conditions. Most drivers in Massachusetts have had the unfortunate experience of driving behind a vehicle that was not properly cleaned off after a storm. Oftentimes, a driver, who is either lazy or in a hurry, clears just enough snow off their windshield to see through a small hole. However, as the car warms up, the remaining snow and ice on the vehicle melts and slides off the roof into traffic. Whether the snow falls off a vehicle going 20 miles per hour on a side street or 65 miles per hour on the highway, it adds significant hazard to already dangerous driving conditions.

Failing to properly clean off a vehicle can lead to accidents causing injury, property damage and even death. These consequences can have a profound effect on both the person who suffers as a result of the accident and their loved ones. For this very reason, many states have proposed and enacted laws specifically prohibiting this type of reckless and negligent conduct. In fact, the Massachusetts Legislature has recently proposed legislation prohibiting the operation of a vehicle covered with snow and ice. Additionally, a driver who does not properly clean off a vehicle can be fined under Massachusetts’ impeded operation statute, which provides that, “No person, when operating a motor vehicle, shall permit to be on or in the vehicle or on or about his person anything which may interfere with or impede the proper operation of the vehicle or any equipment by which the vehicle is operated or controlled.” In cases where an injury or death occurs, the driver could also face civil, and even criminal, liability for his or her reckless or negligent behavior.

In the unfortunate event that you or a loved one is injured in a car accident in Massachusetts, the personal injury attorneys at Wynn & Wynn are ready and able to provide you with prompt and thorough assistance. Call our office today 1-800-852-5211, or request your free consultation.

Car Accidents: How to Protect Teenagers

Posted in Blog, Personal Injury by on October 23rd, 2014

rental-agreementAccording to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teenage injuries and deaths in the United States. Sadly, thirty-nine traffic fatalities in the State of Massachusetts in 2012 involved a teenager. Teenage drivers are inexperienced and as a result are four times more likely to be injured in an automobile accident and are twice as likely to injure someone else.

Having a loved one involved in a motor vehicle accident can be problematic, however, an accident caused by a teenager can be even more devastating because the consequences can destroy the teenager’s life and the lives of those around them.

Massachusetts teen drivers at most risk to be in a motor vehicle accident are males who are 2 times more likely than teenage females to be involved in a motor vehicle accident, teens driving with other teen passengers, and newly licensed teens (the risk of accident is greatest during the months immediately following obtaining a license). Teen drivers also have the lowest use of seatbelts. For example, in 2013 only 55% of teenagers said they used there seatbelt when driving with someone else.
Some of the reasons that Massachusetts teenagers are more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident are:

• Speeding
• Inexperience
• Risky driving behaviors
• Drinking
• Driving with teen passengers
Cell phone use/texting
• Underestimating dangerous situations
• Nighttime driving
• Drowsy driving
The good news is the number of car accidents involving teenage driver is trending downward and has decreased by 50% since Massachusetts raised the training requirements for teenage drivers seeking licensure and also, increased the penalties for teen driving infractions, such as speeding.
Graduated Licensing Systems are a proven way to decrease teen accidents and fatalities by putting restrictions on teen drivers that are gradually lifted as the teen gains the experience and skills necessary to be a better driver. Parents are a key tool in preventing teen accidents in Massachusetts by helping to teach safe driving as well as understanding and helping to enforce the laws.

If you or someone you love has been involved in a car accident, contact Wynn and Wynn Attorneys so we can help you through the process. To set up a free consultation please call 1.800.852.5211 or Click Here to Contact Us.

Developments in Premises Liability

Posted in Blog, Business Law, Personal Injury by on July 31st, 2014

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Building Code Violations and Strict Liability

By: James M. McCarthy, Esq.

HomeImgThe Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (“SJC”) recently clarified prior disagreement between the statutory construction and caselaw interpretation of strict liability for violation of state building codes in Sheehan v. Weaver, 467 Mass. 734 (2014). The Court in Sheehan came to a twofold interpretation of strict liability for injuries suffered due to violation of state building codes.  First, the relevant statute was read to apply strict liability to injuries suffered as a result of any building code violations on the premises and not just those pertaining to fire safety. Second, the Court then narrowed the definition of a “building” to which this statute applies. The net effect of this ruling is that strict liability can now be applied to a broader range of code violations but in a more limited class of structures. This decision will have a direct impact on many commercial property owners and landlords.

After a night out drinking with a friend, the Plaintiff, William Sheehan, returned to his apartment that he rented from the Defendants, Jean and David Weaver. The Weavers owned and managed the three story structure in Beverly, Massachusetts that contained a chiropractor’s office on the first floor with three residential units on the second and third floors. Access to Mr. Sheehan’s apartment was provided by an exterior wooden staircase that led to a landing on the second floor.  This landing provided access to one second floor apartment and Mr. Sheehan’s third floor apartment.  The other second floor apartment and the chiropractor’s office were accessed by separate entrances.  While standing on the exterior second floor landing, Mr. Sheehan leaned against the railing which then broke and caused him to fall and hit the pavement below.

The issue of negligence was not taken up on appeal so the SJC focused on the interpretation and application of M.G.L. c. 143 § 51 to this case.  The statute reads, in relevant part:

The owner, lessee, mortgagee in possession or occupant, being the party in control, of a place of assembly, theatre, special hall, public hall, factory, workshop, manufacturing establishment or building shall comply with the provisions of this chapter and the state building code relative thereto, and such person shall be liable to any person injured for all damages caused by a violation of any of said provisions.

M.G.L. c. 143 § 51. The Court addressed two issues with the language of the statute. First, whether § 51 applies to all state building codes or “only those concerning fire safety” as stated in McAllister v. Boston Hous. Auth., 429 Mass. 300, 304 n. 5 (1999) quoting Festa v. Piemonte, 349 Mass. 761 (1965)(“[N]one of the benefits of G.L. c. 143 [§51] is available to persons using stairways and egresses for purposes other than escape from danger from fire.”). Second, the Court discussed the definition of “building” and whether the Weaver’s three story structure should be properly considered the type of construction that the Legislature sought to regulate.

1.         All Building Code Violations Under G.L. c. 143 § 51 Impose Strict Liability on the Party in Control

The legislative history of M.G.L. c. 143 § 51, and the caselaw interpreting it, explains the disconnect between the plain language and real world application of the statute. Prior to 1972, the statute imposed strict liability only for violations of “ sections twenty-one, twenty-four to twenty-eight, inclusive, and thirty…” which pertained to various fire-safety issues. The pre-1972 Massachusetts courts, therefore, only applied strict liability in instances where persons were injured during an escape from a fire.

In 1972, the Massachusetts Legislature repealed that old version of the statute and replaced it with the current version that does not contain any restrictions to fire-related safety issues. Furthermore, the new law applies strict liability to “any” violations of the building codes. Despite the new broader language, however, Massachusetts courts continued to apply judicial precedent and maintained the fire-related restrictions on strict liability. Various reasons were given for this inconsistency in interpretation but the limitations remained as vestiges of the old law.

The SJC has now overturned judicial precedent and brought interpretation in line with the plain language of the statute. “(W)e now overrule the holding in McAllister and determine that, in accordance with the plain language of the statute, and considered in light of the prior legislation it replaced, § 51 applies to any violations of G.L. c. 143 and the State building code.” Sheehan at 741 (emphasis added). As a result, strict liability will be applied to those in control of a building for injuries suffered as a result of any building code violation. The SJC then moved on to determine if the Weavers’ structure qualifies as a “building” under the statute.

2.         The Small-Scale Residential Structure at Issue is Not a “Building” Under G.L. c. 143 § 51

According to § 51, strict liability for a building code violation will be held against a party in control of a “place of assembly, theatre, special hall, public hall, factory, workshop, manufacturing establishment or building”. In Sheehan, the landlords argued that their structure was not a “building” under the statute and, therefore, the statute should not apply strict liability for their broken railing.

The SJC relied on precedent to determine that the definition of a “building” in this provision needs a narrow interpretation in the context of the other structures listed. Prior caselaw has excluded single-family houses and two-family homes with a rented unit from the definition. The Court determined that the structures listed in § 51 are all “places in which a large number of people gather for occupational, entertainment, or other purposes.” Sheehan at 743. The Court then moved on to apply this analysis to the Sheehan’s mixed use structure that contains a chiropractor’s office on the first floor and residences on the upper two floors.

The SJC held that “in some instances, the term ‘building’ may encompass only a portion of a larger structure.” Sheehan at 744. The Court decided that the Weavers’ structure had a residential portion that was both legally and structurally distinct from the business portion on the first floor. The two areas should be treated separately for purposes of § 51. As the residential portion was not used by a large number of people to gather, and had a separate entrance only used by the residents, it was not subject to § 51. Therefore, strict liability was not applied to the code-violating railing because the residential portion of the structure was not a “building” under the statute.

This decision, at first blush, could send a shiver down the spine of landlords throughout Massachusetts. The SJC has now determined that any violation of state building codes, not just fire-related infractions, that result in injury will lead to the application of strict liability on the owner or person in control. However, the SJC coupled this expansion of the statute with a companion narrowing of structures to which it applies. Strict liability for building code violations shall only apply to structures in which people gather to work, be entertained, or socialize. Furthermore, each structure may, as practicably as possible, be divided up according to primary use and access in order to decide whether strict liability should be applied to certain portions of the structure.

Sheehan v. Weaver has expanded the use of strict liability to instances of injury resulting from any building code violations under G.L. c. 143 § 51. While residential owners and landlords need not lose sleep over this development, their counterparts in the commercial sphere should take notice. Their properties are more likely to be considered a ‘building’ under the statute and expose them to strict liability for injuries resulting from any building code violation.

If you have any questions regarding a personal injury resulting from an accident please call 1.800.852.5211 or request a free consultation by clicking here.

 

Injuries resulting from Fireworks

Posted in Personal Injury by on July 7th, 2014

This past weekend was the 4th of July: This holiday can be a source of fun and entertainment, but at any moment it can turn into a disaster due to injuries resulting from the use of illegal consumer fireworks.

Fireworks are extremely dangerous when the displays are conducted by unlicensed individuals and lead to many injuries each year. Each 4th of July thousands of injuries related to fireworks occur. In 2012, US hospitals treated 8700 patients with fireworks related injuries 55 percent of these injuries were to the extremities and 31 percent of injuries were to the head. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 8 deaths and an estimated 11400 fireworks related injuries which is a marked increase from the 8700 reported in 2012. The National Fire Protection agency reports that the risk of fireworks exceeds the risk of cigarettes making fireworks the riskiest consumer product.

Massachusetts Law prohibits the use of, possession of, or sale of fireworks, it also prohibits the transportation of fireworks purchased legally in another state. Massachusetts health, fire and law enforcement officials urge consumers to leave the fireworks displays to the professionals. Leaving the consumer fireworks to the professionals will avoid unnecessary injuries resulting from the use of dangerous fireworks. Even sparklers can cause injuries burning at a temperature of 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to cause third degree burns to put this into perspective, glass melts at 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Sparklers are responsible for 16 percent of fireworks injuries.

Fireworks are a staple of American celebration and of the 4th of July in general and they can be enjoyed safely by following a few simple tips 1. Leave the fireworks to the professionals by enjoying supervised public displays. 2. Never allow children to play with fireworks. 3. Keep a safe distance from all fireworks displays. 4. Never try to pick up or relight fireworks that have been left over after the display.

No one wants or plans for an accident however the reality is that accidents happen and lives can be changed completely due to an accident of this kind. If you or someone you know have been injured by the use of illegal consumer fireworks you may be entitled to compensation. It is important for you to know your legal rights. The attorneys at Wynn and Wynn are dedicated to the representation of individuals and are available to discuss the laws related to your situation and help you to navigate the complicated legal process during this difficult time. Call today at 1-800-852-5211 or click here for a free consultation.