Articles Posted in Car Accidents

In most cases in which a party alleges harm due to someone else’s negligence, the injured party is required to prove the acts or omissions of the defendant constituted a breach of the duty owed to the plaintiff. In some cases, however, a defendant who is guilty of violating a law may be deemed negligent as a matter of law. Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts discussed the standard for determining whether a person found guilty of violating a criminal statute may be deemed negligent based on the violation. If you or someone you love were injured by someone during the commission of a crime, it is prudent to consult a skillful personal injury attorney to discuss what you can do to protect your interests.

The Underlying Accident

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent was stopped on a bridge because her car had a flat tire. She called for assistance, and while she was waiting, twenty-four vehicles passed her car. The defendant driver, however, struck the rear of the decedent’s car when he was driving a truck over the bridge, which caused the car to burst into flames. The decedent ultimately died due to injuries sustained in the collision. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant and his employer, alleging negligence and gross negligence, as well as wrongful death claims. The parties both filed motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff sought, in part, to have the defendant driver deemed negligent as a matter of law due to the fact that he was convicted of motor vehicle homicide due to negligent operation.

Collateral Estoppel in Civil Cases

Under Massachusetts law, anyone that causes the death of a person by operating a vehicle negligently can be convicted of homicide by a motor vehicle. Specifically, the statute requires the Commonwealth to show that the defendant operated a vehicle on a public road, in a negligent or reckless manner that endangered the lives and safety of other people and subsequently caused the death of another person.

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Most drivers in Massachusetts carry automobile insurance. Thus, if a driver causes an accident that harms another person, the driver’s automobile insurance carrier will typically make payments to the injured party on behalf of the driver. If an insurance company declines to make payments to an injured party on behalf of a negligent driver, however, the injured party cannot pursue claims directly against the insurer, as explained in a recent Massachusetts appellate court case. If you suffered harm in a car accident caused by a reckless driver, it is in your best interest to speak with a skillful Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your options for seeking damages for your harm.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff was involved in an accident with a driver that was insured by the defendant. The defendant’s insured was at fault for the accident, and therefore the defendant attempted to negotiate a settlement agreement with the plaintiff. The parties were unable to independently resolve the matter, however. As such, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, seeking compensation for the damages caused by the defendant’s insured. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted. The plaintiff then appealed the trial court’s dismissal of his case.

An Insurer’s Liability for the Acts of its Insured

Under Massachusetts law, a person injured in an accident cannot pursue claims against a liability insurer for the acts of its insured. Instead, a person injured in an accident must engage in a two-step process to recover damages from an insurance company. First, the injured person must obtain a judgment against an insured party. If the injured person obtains a judgment and the judgment is not satisfied, the injured person may then pursue a bill to reach and apply against the insurer of the liable party.

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Car accidents are common in Massachusetts, and people involved in car accidents often sustain injuries and property damage. Thus, in many cases, a person who incurs damages due to a car accident will pursue claims against one of the drivers involved in the accident. There are numerous categories of damages a person can recover following a car accident, including damages for pain and suffering. Recently, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts discussed what a plaintiff must prove to recover damages for pain and suffering following a car accident, under Massachusetts law. If you suffered harm due to a car accident, it is advisable to speak with a diligent Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding what damages you may be able to recover from the party that caused your harm.

Factual and Procedural Background of the Case

Allegedly, the plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a vehicle owned by a Vermont resident, when they were involved in an accident with a driver from Massachusetts. The plaintiff reportedly sustained injuries in the accident and subsequently asserted claims against the Massachusetts driver, the Vermont driver, the insurance company of each driver, and his own insurance company. Subsequently, each of the plaintiff’s claims was dismissed,with the exception of the negligence claims against each driver. A jury found that the Massachusetts driver was negligent but that her negligence was not the cause of the plaintiff’s alleged harm and, therefore, entered judgment on her behalf. The plaintiff appealed.

Recovering Damages for Pain and Suffering Following a Car Accident

On appeal, the court noted that during the trial, the plaintiff expressed that he was only seeking damages for pain and suffering from the Massachusetts driver. As such, he was required to prove his injuries met one of the enumerated threshold requirements set forth under Massachusetts law. Specifically, in Massachusetts, a plaintiff can only recover damages for pain and suffering in a lawsuit arising out of a motor vehicle collision in certain circumstances, which includes when the plaintiff’s medical expenses exceed $2,000.00.

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The evidence presented by either party can make or break a personal injury case. If the court denies a plaintiff’s request that the court take judicial notice of certain evidence it can result in a defense verdict. The Massachusetts Rules of Evidence limit what materials a court may take judicial notice of, however.

This was illustrated in a recent case decided by the Appeals Court of Massachusetts, in which the court affirmed the trial court’s refusal to take judicial notice of a driver’s manual, or provide the jury with an instruction with language taken from the manual. If you suffered harm due to a car accident, it is important to retain an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney to represent you in your claim for compensation so that your case is handled properly.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is reported the plaintiff was driving her vehicle when she was struck by a vehicle driven by the defendant while the defendant was backing out of a residential driveway. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging the defendant’s negligence caused the accident and her harm. Following a trial, the jury found the defendant was not negligent. The plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, arguing the court erred in declining to admit the Registry of Motor Vehicles Driver Manual (Manual) and in failing to provide the jury with the plaintiff’s requested instruction, which was obtained from the Manual. On appeal, the court affirmed.

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A Massachusetts car accident resulted in an estate filing suit against a convenience store chain after a speeding driver ran into the deceased as he crashed into the front of the store.  The deceased’s husband and executor alleged the company had experienced several front-of-store “car strikes” and knew of the risks cars had to its store.  The estate claimed bollards or other barriers could have been erected along the walkway and entrance to the parking lot.  The estate argued this would have prevented a car traveling at high speed from injuring anyone, particularly the deceased in this suit.  A jury agreed and awarded the estate over $32 Million in compensatory damages, eventually reduced by the court to $20 million; and $10 in punitive damages, which was waived since it did not meet the $5000 minimum.

The convenience store chain appealed, arguing it should have been granted a new trial after it improperly admitted an internal report about 485 prior car strikes at other stores.  The chain believed each accident referred to should have been subjected to a “rigorous” review to determine whether or not it was substantially similar to the accident in this suit.  At trial and during the appeal, the chain contended the accident was random and unforeseeable.  In response, the estate looked for reinstatement of the $32 million compensatory damages award, asserting the remittitur of the damages was improper. 

The location of the events was similar to other property owned by the chain gas station and convenience stores.  The store was surrounded by parking spaces for those stopping into the store as well as gas pumps.  No barriers or devices were set along the walkway.  The store was located at the “corner” of a three-way intersection that did not meet at 90 degree angles. Two of the three entrances to the property required drivers to slow down to make a turn and enter.  One did not.  This entrance allowed drivers to come straight from the apex of the intersection onto the property without reducing speed or turning.  The situation was dangerous enough for a store employee to complain to two separate managers, but nothing was done to alter the set-up of the property. 

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the dismissal of an injured person’s claim in a recent case. The injured person was rear-ended at a stoplight and later filed a Massachusetts car accident case, claiming the accident caused her pre-existing medical conditions to be aggravated, resulting in several medical bills. The trial had been rescheduled several times at the request of the injured person, but the injured person failed to show on the last scheduled trial date. The case was dismissed with prejudice for “want of prosecution,” even though the injured person’s attorney was present and ready for trial. The injured person appealed.

The plaintiff had asked and been granted three continuances for the scheduled date of trial. After the third continuance, the court indicated that would be the last one. The injured person still filed an emergency motion to continue the fourth date because her daughter was scheduled to give birth on or around the trial. This motion was denied, so the injured person’s attorney requested that if the client could not attend the trial, he’d be allowed to provide an explanation of her absence for her grandchild’s birth. The court advised this would be acceptable.

The injured person’s daughter did go into labor on the day before the trial, suffering complications. Despite the doctor’s note advising the daughter was in fact in the hospital and experiencing complications due to her high-risk pregnancy, the court denied the renewed request for another continuance. The court then dismissed the injured person’s complaint with prejudice, determining the injured person could not prove her case without providing testimony that she was the operator of one of the cars involved in the accident. The judge did not believe the injured person would show up for any part of the trial, and this would likely result in a directed verdict.

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Several things must be considered when a personal injury settlement is reached. One of these considerations is whether the injured person is required by law to notify and pay a portion of the settlement to a third party. Some entities, often health care providers, are allowed to place a lien on settlements or benefits so that they can be paid for the services previously rendered. The Appeals Court recently examined an appeal by the estate of a woman injured in a Massachusetts car accident, which was ordered to provide payment to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (MassHealth).

The estate reached a settlement with the defendant driver who caused the car accident and subsequent injury. This accident aggravated the now-deceased plaintiff’s dementia prior to her death a year after the accident. The estate filed suit within two years after her passing and ultimately reached a settlement of $250,000. Before the injured person died, MassHealth provided over $18,000 worth of medical care and imposed a lien on the claim for reimbursement of expenses paid for the injured person’s care.

The estate and MassHealth conferred about the lien prior to the settlement, discussing the possibility to reduce the lien. However, nothing came of these discussions because the injured person’s attorney did not submit the forms that would reduce the lien. After the settlement was reached with the defendant driver, MassHealth issued demand letters to the estate for payment. Eventually, MassHealth learned it was not named on the settlement check. Initially, MassHealth attempted to discuss the matter with the estate’s attorney, but it eventually moved to intervene on the settlement. The lower court granted the motion for intervention and ordered payment of the medical expenses. The estate appealed.

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The injured party in this case was driving down the Massachusetts Turnpike in 2011 when a “classic car” transported on a flatbed trailer slid off and hit the plaintiff’s car. The injured man filed suit against the owner of the vintage car and three other men accompanying him in the transport of the car. The case against one of the defendants went to trial, where the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. The injured man appealed, arguing a mistrial should have been granted based on the defendant’s opening statement made by his attorney, a res ipsa loquitur jury instruction should have been given, and a new trial should have been awarded.

These types of appellate requests are typical, whether it is a slip-and-fall case or an auto accident case like this one. The civil court system acknowledges that mistakes can be made at the trial court level. A dissatisfied party can point to errors made by the trial court judge or jury in its ruling, finding, or award. A frustrated party can ask for the appellate court to alter the problematic ruling or award, or they can ask for an entirely new trial. The plaintiff-appellant in this case asked for the latter, arguing the errors made were so egregious the only solution was a new trial.

In its review, the appellate court first addressed the injured man’s argument that the defense counsel’s opening statement was incurably prejudicial. The defendant told the jury the injured man waited 19 months to file suit and did not readily produce his medical records. The Appeals Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to declare a mistrial based on the defendant’s opening statements. The trial judge made spontaneous comments after comments made by counsel and did not officially provide a ruling on an objection. The plaintiff did not preserve the record for appeal through an objection. The trial judge did instruct the jury that opening statements are not evidence, and the discovery process was not essential for the jury’s consideration.

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Many obstacles arise in a negligence lawsuit, and defendants will try to use all of them to prevent or minimize liability. Injured parties face evidentiary challenges if witnesses are hard to locate, or physical evidence is compromised. Procedural hurdles also exist, from the timing of the filing to the way in which pleadings are written. In a recent decision, the federal First Circuit Court of Appeal addressed a summary judgment granted in favor of the defendants, based on issues with the injured person’s statement of facts and submitted reports.

The plaintiff was injured in a vehicle collision in 2014. He filed suit against the driver of the tractor trailer and the company that owned the trailer and hired the driver. The injured person alleged the trailer caused a rear-end collision, causing him to lose control of his own vehicle and strike a median. 

Upon review, the magistrate judge recommended granting the defendants’ motions to strike the plaintiff’s purported set of facts in his own motion and the opposition to the defendants’ motion. The injured man had included two expert reports attached as exhibits, which were also excluded. The grounds for this recommendation were based on the injured man’s failure to comply with Local Rule 56.1, which requires a filed opposition to motions for summary judgment to be a concise statement of material facts of record. The District Judge adopted the Magistrate Judge’s recommendations and report, entering summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The injured man appealed.

In Massachusetts, even if you successfully settle or litigate a negligence action and are awarded damages, receiving the payment of damages can become challenging. This is demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts car accident decision (16-P-1623) that upheld a settlement agreement made between the owners of a farm, the driver of a car, and her husband. The driver was seriously injured after her vehicle collided with two cows from the defendants’ farm that had wandered into the road. The injured woman and her husband filed suit against the owners, which eventually led to mediation. A settlement agreement was reached between the injured couple and the defendant husband. The defendant wife was not present and did not sign the agreement afterward.

A settlement agreement is a contract between two or more parties to settle the pending litigation and release the defendant from future claims. A court ordering the enforcement of an agreement must be confident the parties actually came to an agreement over the essential terms of the settlement. Issues over minor, collateral matters are not detrimental to enforcement.  For example, even if there is no deadline specified for when the obligation is to begin, the agreement will remain intact, and a “reasonable” date can be used if it does not change the essence of the contract. Once a settlement agreement is reached, the agreement is reported to the court, which will then decide whether to enter an order to formalize the agreement. Once this occurs, unless there is a determination that the agreement was either unenforceable or materially breached, the parties must follow the terms within the document or face civil penalties for failing to uphold their obligation.

In this lawsuit, the defendants failed to perform their obligations under the agreement. The injured woman and her husband filed a motion requesting the trial court to enforce the agreement. The defendants were given proper notice but failed to attend the hearing to answer or contest the agreement. The judge signed an order formally adopting the agreement, entering a judgment against both defendants for $40,000 to the plaintiffs and $4,364.28 for attorney’s costs and fees, to be paid according to a payment schedule. The agreement also allowed the defendants to finalize a judgment against an unrelated party and for the plaintiffs to pursue the $40,000 from the same unrelated party.