Articles Posted in car accidents

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.

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.

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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