Now that the snow shovels have been put away and the lawn needs cutting, we are fast approaching the lazy days of Summer. However, the 100 days of Summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, are the deadliest days on our highways.

The 100 days of Summer are particularly dangerous for teenage drivers. During the 100 days, the number of teenage car crashes and fatalities will increase dramatically. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that in 2016, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, 1,050 people were killed in crashes involving teen drivers; an average of 10 people a day which is a 15% increase compared to the other months.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. A contributing factor for the dramatic increase in teen deaths in the Summer is the simple fact that teens are out of school and they are spending a lot more time on the roads and highways.

The rise of self-driving cars, which has been pioneered in many ways by the electric car manufacturer Tesla, is a fascinating area of the law that is developing at a rapid pace. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, as long claimed that self-driving cars are safer than those operated by humans. Others, who have been involved in accidents when Tesla’s autopilot feature has allegedly malfunctioned, are not so sure. In some ways, Musk and Tesla are now putting their money where their mouth is, and have announced they will be rolling out insurance policies that take advantage of what they claim are safer driving behaviors.

Insurance is an issue that has plagued Tesla owners in the short history of the company, as they are consistently some of the most expensive vehicles on the road to insure. Musk apparently believes that the vehicles are safer than insurance underwriters give them credit for, and believes that Tesla can lower insurance premiums by issuing their own policies.

One feature that drives the insurance market, and Musk believes should lower premiums is the autopilot, or self-driving feature. Over the past few years, there has been some misunderstanding as to exactly what autopilot technology is. Quite simply, autopilot technology allows the computers in a vehicle to operate the vehicle with minimal input from the driver. Vehicle are able to stop and go on their own, maintain a safe distance from vehicles in front of them, change lanes, and exit roadways.

More than 30 years ago I represented the Estate of a young man who was killed in a horrible truck accident. On a beautiful summer night, the young man was driving home from a fishing trip in Connecticut. Up ahead on a dark highway was a disabled tractor trailer without any rear lights or flashers. Although my client was driving at less than 50 miles per hour, he could not stop in time before he crashed into the disabled trailer. The front of my client’s car slid easily under the back bumper of the trailer and the top of his car was sheared off resulting in his decapitation.

As shocking as this sounds, I soon learned that there had already been thousands of deaths and serious injuries as a result of tractor trailers that were not equipped with rear underride guards.

Fortunately, in 1998, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) adopted regulations requiring trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds to be equipped with rear underride guards. Although the 1998 legislation has saved many lives, studies conducted over the past 50 years have also shown the need for front guards and sideguards.

Tragedy struck yesterday in Cambridge, Massachusetts when a construction worker at MIT was killed, and two more were injured. First and foremost, our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims of this tragedy.  Any time there is a death, particularly one where a person is working to provide for their family, it is very much a human story.  The victims in this case had families and friends, and these people are experiencing a terrible loss.

As for this particular accident, preliminary reports indicate that the workers on MIT’s campus were hit by falling support beams. Being struck by a falling object falls within what OSHA identifies as the “Fatal Four:” falls, struck by object, electrocutions, and caught-in/between. These four types of accidents make up a large percentage of the injuries and deaths suffered on construction sites.

If the family of the victims here pursue a civil case, they will likely bring two (2) simultaneous cases. The first is a workers compensation case.  When a worker is injured, the worker has no choice but to file a workers compensation case, as health insurance will not pay medical bills.  The workers compensation insurer will pay 75% of that worker’s wages while they are out, and will pay medical bills as well.  In a case like this where there was a fatality, the comp insurer will also pay a death benefit to the family.

The rise of the e-cigarettes or vape pens brings with it a host of dangers-and not just those associated with addiction. Increasingly, we are learning that the composition of the e-cigarette or vape pen itself actually makes it dangerous to its users. A recent case out of Texas showed first-hand the dangers of e-cigarettes, and the tragic consequences that can accompany their use. In this instance, a young man was killed after using a vape pen, where the battery failed and caused the device to explode.

The Texas case is not an anomaly, either. In recent years, e-cigarette or vape pen explosions have occurred with rapidly increasing frequency, including 31 incidents within the Navy, many of which occurred due to battery explosions.

Lithium-ion batteries power e-cigarettes or vape pens, and it is these batteries that are largely responsible for the explosions and injuries that e-cigarettes have caused. A report by the US Surgeon General explained that when a lithium battery is overcharged, it can create something known as thermal runaway, which can lead to the battery catching on fire and becoming a projectile.

In 2016, an estimated 481,000 drivers operated a vehicle while also holding a mobile device. With an increase in usage comes an increase in injuries caused by distracted drivers.  It is no surprise, then, that lawmakers and officials are paying more attention to distracted driving and other risky driving behaviors. In order to address the sharp increase in phone use while driving, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has recently proposed a ban on the use of hand held devices while driving. The proposed ban seeks to address a wide range of phone usage, including calling, surfing the web, and generally looking at the phone screen.  Under Baker’s proposal, it would still be legal utilize hands-free calling while driving, and to perform “one touch” functions on the phone, such as unlocking and connecting to a hands-free device.  It would be illegal to hold the phone while driving for any other purpose.

Proponents of the stricter law on cell phone use claim that the law would simply bring Massachusetts in line with neighboring states like Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York.  The current Massachusetts law, which bans only texting, still leaves motorists exposed to the dangers posed by drivers who are reading on their phones, talking, and performing any of the other functions our phones can perform.

Undoubtedly, there is a strong safety interest in reducing distracted driving.  The Massachusetts RMV details the three types of distractions associated with driving: visual (looking away from the road), manual (removing a hand/hands from the steering wheel), and cognitive (anything preventing one from focusing completely on driving safely). The RMV explains how all of these factors are present when one texts and drives, but these are also present in hand-held cell phone usage. With one or a combination of these factors, individuals open themselves up to the possibility of severely injuring themselves, fellow passengers, as well as other individuals who are driving, biking, or walking within the vicinity.

People in Southeast Massachusetts are taking a fresh look at the safety of school buses, as students in Berkley, Massachusetts were seriously injured in a recent bus crash.  Unfortunately, we learned once again that all people within vehicles are in some danger, as the Berkley bus was apparently hit by a drunk driver.  Students suffered a variety of injuries, some as serious as a crushed vertebrae and blood in the lungs.  According to prosecutors, the drunk driver hit another vehicle, spun in front of the bus, and forced the bus driver off the road.  While there has been no suggestion that the bus driver did anything wrong, it is never a bad time to look at ensuring our children are safe going back and forth to school.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road.” That may be, but one topic that is frequently discussed for bus safety is availability and use of seat belts.  It is unclear whether seat belts were used by any of the students on the bus, or whether they were even available. While both lap and shoulder seat belts are widely available, only six states require them on school buses. Massachusetts is not one of those states. Large school buses, such as the one involved in the accident, are “heavier and distribute crash forces differently than passengers cars,” according to NHTSA. As a result, the NHTSA focuses upon “compartmentalization,” which offers protection through closely-packed seats and energy-absorbing seat backs, and is supposed to protect school children without utilizing seat belts.

The issue of safety restraints on buses has been addressed in the past, even as recently as earlier this year. In May of 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation that all states update seat belt policies.  While the accident is currently being viewed as the fault of the drunk driver, the lack of seatbelts, or the choice to not use them, could still impact child safety.

In recent years, we have seen a disturbing, though not surprising, trend in Massachusetts. As the population grows, car traffic grows, pedestrian traffic grows, and bicycle traffic grows.  This increased traffic poses a question that Boston lawmakers are currently addressing- how do we keep all of these people safe?  One way of keeping people safe is to decrease the speed limit within the city.  That was already done once, in 2017, with the city lowered the speed limit from 30 to 25.  Now, the city is talking about lowering the speed limit again.

The desire for a lower speed limit and safer streets is understandable when we look at the toll that traffic accidents take.  In 2013, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control estimated that crash-related deaths resulted in $438 million being lost to medical and work related costs.  It is no surprise, then, that the city of Boston plans to continue its efforts to create safer roadways for pedestrians and drivers by further reducing the speed limit. One difficulty with this proposal lies in the fact that it requires state approval for implementation.  This hurdle has led some to consider the idea of “safety zones,” which are certain areas with reduced speeds that would not require state approval.

While several factors contribute to pedestrian accidents- speeding, distracted driving, driving under the influence, poor weather conditions, nighttime driving- eliminating even one of those factors can lead to improved safety and fewer casualties and injuries.

Tragedy struck the Merrimack Valley communities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover on Thursday afternoon, as multiple gas explosions wreaked havoc. As of Friday morning, it was reported that at least one person was dead and 10 had been injured as a result of the explosions. Governor Baker immediately visited the communities last night, and expressed concern for the safety of local residents.  The Governor indicated that an investigation was secondary at this point, and that ensuring the safety of the area was the first priority.  Currently, there are hundreds of families displaced, as the utilities are not able to say with certainty that all issues have been resolved.  Thankfully, local communities are coming together and providing food, lodging, fire personnel, and other help to those in need.

Tragically, an 18 year old man named Leonel Rondon was killed during a fire resulting from the explosion, when a chimney fell on him.  Rondon was simply sitting in his car when the great weight of the chimney fell on it, likely killing him instantly.

First and foremost, our thoughts are with the residents of these towns as they deal with devastating losses.  While we can all take pride in the willingness of people to help, we still have a long way to go.  Secondly, we do not yet know the exact cause of the fires, but one thing appears abundantly clear:  this type of incident is not supposed to happen.  While gas lines involve an obvious danger, given the flammable nature of natural gas, they actually operate very safely when run properly.  As of 2014, it was estimated that approximately 48% of homes in the Untied States heated with natural gas.  It speaks to the safety of properly run natural gas that we hear of so few explosions and fires due to gas.

As Massachusetts personal injury lawyers, we see clients in one particular circumstance far too often.  A person is seriously injured in a car crash.  The at-fault driver carries only minimal insurance.  The victim has mounting medical bills, is out of work, needs in-home care, and has nowhere to turn.

Massachusetts only requires drivers to carry Twenty Thousand Dollars ($20,000) in bodily injury coverage on automobile insurance policies. This means that if a driver who carries only minimal coverage seriously injures or kills another motorist, $20,000 may be all that is available for insurance.  But it gets worse.  Just because there is $20,000 in insurance does not mean the injury victim will recover that amount.  It is likely that most- if not all- of the recovery will be eaten up by medical bills, lost wages, and payments to others.

First, Make Sure You Have Enough of Your Own Insurance

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