Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) happen when a blow or jolt to the head disrupts normal brain functioning. In a single year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TBIs were diagnosed in nearly 2.9 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S. And how are most brain injuries sustained? After accidental falls, the second leading cause of TBI-related hospitalizations is motor vehicle crashes. In children and adolescents under the age of 18, in Massachusetts and around the country, car accidents are the leading cause of TBI-related death.

Severity of Brain Injuries Caused by Car Accidents

Brain injuries can range from mild concussions to fatal trauma. A driver may hit his head on the steering wheel, an unrestrained passenger may go through the windshield, or a bicyclist traveling on the streets of Boston may strike her head on the pavement after colliding with a car. A Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) classification system categorizes TBIs as mild, moderate, or severe based on the following criteria:

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), 2021 marked the deadliest year on Massachusetts roads in over a decade. And the data on motorcycle riders was even more shocking: motorcyclist deaths in the state reached a 25-year high. In fact, the MA Highway Safety Division noted motorcycle fatalities as one of the main reasons for 2021’s high overall numbers — along with excessive speed and lack of seatbelt use.

Is Riding a Motorcycle Really Dangerous?

Although many people find the excitement and freedom of riding a motorcycle attractive, motorcycles do have downsides. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcyclists are overrepresented in fatal traffic crashes. Below are a few statistics about motorcycle accidents from NHTSA and the National Safety Council:

As Life Returns to Normal in Massachusetts, Car Accidents Increase

The coronavirus pandemic affected life in ways large and small, and traffic was no exception. In the early days of COVID-19, Massachusetts traffic volumes plummeted, as did crashes. When society opened back up, traffic returned in full force. As MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said in 2021, “Traffic, for all intents and purposes, is back to about 2019 levels on most roadways in Massachusetts.”

More motor vehicles on the roads generally means more crashes. And that holds true for MA car accidents in virtually every category. The worst statistic? Over 400 people died in Massachusetts crashes in 2021– the highest number of fatalities in over a decade.

Airbags installed in vehicles are supposed to prevent injuries, not cause them. But that’s just what airbags produced by Japanese company Takata are accused of doing.

Defective Takata airbags can explode violently in a crash, causing serious injuries in otherwise minor collisions. As of 2021, at least 19 people in the U.S. had died and more than 400 had been injured by faulty Takata airbags.

And the dangers are far-reaching: defective Takata airbags may have been installed in as many as 100 million vehicles worldwide.

Takata Airbag Recall

As early as 2004, reports surfaced in the U.S. of Takata airbags exploding. The potentially fatal flaw is caused by the airbag’s propellant, which can degrade and cause the inflator to rupture explosively. As accounts of injuries and deaths came in over the next few years, automakers started recalling cars equipped with potentially faulty Takata airbags.

By 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finally ordered Takata to institute a nationwide airbag recall. The recall eventually extended to over 67 million airbags involving 19 different car manufacturers. The NHTSA called these the “largest and most complex vehicle recalls in U.S. history.”

And the bad news didn’t end there. Despite the massive recall, millions of cars with defective Takata airbags are still on the road today. A faulty Takata airbag was implicated in the death of a U.S. driver in 2021, many years after the recall.

Takata Airbag Lawsuits

Hundreds of people have filed lawsuits against Takata, claiming that they were injured by the defective airbags. The lawsuits allege that Takata airbags rupture dangerously when deployed, sometimes shooting metal shards into passengers, causing severe bodily harm.

Takata airbag injuries may include the following:

  • Brain damage or concussion
  • Serious cuts on the face, neck, throat, torso, or arms
  • Fractures to the head, neck, face, ribs, or chest
  • Excessive black eyes or other bruising
  • Severe burns
  • Metal shrapnel injuries
  • Permanent scarring or other disfigurement
  • Hearing, vision, or vocal damage or loss
  • Complications from blood loss
  • Injury to the fetus in pregnant women
  • Death

With so many Takata airbag claims being filed around the country, many of these suits were consolidated into mass litigation. These lawsuits allege that the manufacturer knew about the potential dangers for over a decade before finally issuing the recall in the U.S.

Several multi-million-dollar settlements involving Takata and auto manufacturers have been reached or proposed. In 2017, the manufacturer admitted misconduct and agreed to pay a $1 billion fine, in part to compensate victims. Continue reading

Drowsy driving is an issue that impacts people across the county. In a study done by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, there are at least 100,000 crashes due to this each year, contributing to thousands of accidents, injuries, and deaths.  The term drowsy driving is used to describe when a driver operates their car when they are feeling tired or fatigued. A driver’s alertness is reduced, reaction time is slowed, and overall decision making can be compromised leading to potentially dangerous outcomes.

What is the impact of drowsy or fatigued driving?

Drowsy driving often mimics some of the same symptoms that occur for people who operate vehicles who are under the influence. When a driver is drowsy, their reaction times can be delayed, they may briefly fall asleep, and they may swerve into other lanes, medians or off the road. This can cause catastrophic injuries for the driver, their passengers, other drivers around them, and pedestrians. Knowing the signs of drowsy driving can help drivers make safe decisions for themselves and others on the road.

Car accidents are at the very least inconvenient and at the most can lead to serious injury or death. A huge question arises as to who will pay for the damage to both property and person. Massachusetts is a modified no-fault state. This means that individuals can be held responsible for car accidents if they are over 50% at fault.

What will my insurance pay?

Drivers in Massachusetts are required to have car insurance. Regardless of what actually occurred and whose fault the accident is, your insurance company will pay for your injuries up to your policy limit. This will apply to medical expenses and lost wages relating to the accident. You can, however, sue the at fault driver for non-monetary damages. These types of damages are things like pain and suffering. To sue for these in addition to recovering from your own insurance, your medical expenses must exceed $2,000, or your injuries must result in serious disfigurement or loss of bodily function. If one of these requirements is met, you can sue for non-economic damages.

The MBTA has announced publicly that a compromised axle led to a Red Line derailment in June that injured one person and has led to painful commuting delays for hundreds of thousands of subway riders since. They also admitted that unsafe elements of the train that were not caught by safety inspections contributed to the derailment. If you were injured or suffered any other lingering negative effects (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) as a result of the train derailment, contact the Cambridge personal injury experts at Altman & Altman LLP for a free consultation today.

In addition to the axle being of significant age – 27 years old without being replaced – the MBTA missed crucial warning signs that an accessory part nearby the axle was compromised, which they concluded through an investigation played a role in the failure of the axle, and caused the train derailment.

While routine inspections have occurred once every two years to detect the sorts of problems which ultimately led to the failure of this axle – in this case another part on the underside of the train known as a “ground ring”, which regulates electrical flow from the rail and dissipates it throughout the body of the train, had become damaged and allowed electricity to flow through the axle, weakening it to the point where it failed.

Other inspections that occurred during the course of the year did not check either the ground ring or the axle, but once the investigation launched into the cause of the incident, it became clear there was a serious problem with the ground ring that should perhaps have been caught sooner.

A normal, functioning ground ring is sealed from outside elements and should resemble a smooth, clean piece of steel. The ground ring that was examined from the train that derailed was revealed to be badly corroded and damaged through an exposure to outside elements such as grease and dirt, which in turn allowed an electrical flow to arc through the axle while the train was running, weakening it.

Amazingly, just one month before the derailment in May of 2019, the train that would eventually derail was inspected and had two separate parts replaced – but unfortunately nobody caught the damaged ground ring or noticed anything abnormal about the axle. Continue reading

Filing a claim for personal injury damages following a car accident in Massachusetts is a somewhat complicated process compared to other states in the country. If you’ve been injured in a car accident where someone else was at fault, it is vital to contact a personal injury attorney from Altman & Altman LLP as soon as possible – and at a minimum, within three years of the incident – in order for your claim to go through the legal process necessary to decide if you will receive compensation.

The complexity of our state’s auto accident claims process is partially because Massachusetts is a “no-fault” state, meaning a driver who causes injuries through an accident must cover any injuries that other individuals sustained – whether another driver, their passengers or a third party such as a bicyclist – through their own personal injury policy, and a lawsuit cannot be filed for personal damages unless other certain criteria are met.

In the case of injuries where more than $2,000-worth of personal injuries are incurred, or where the damages from a car accident cause permanent or disfiguring injuries, such as serious scars or severely broken bones, the no-fault provision of law can be subverted and a personal injury claim may be filed to compensate the victim for their medical bills and damages incurred from pain and suffering or time missed from work.

With the widespread rise of ride sharing services, the most popular being Uber, accidents occurring either while you are a passenger in an Uber or accidents that occur with Uber operators while you’re driving a separate vehicle are essentially a guarantee – it’s simply a matter of who gets involved and when. In either case, the legal framework of dealing with insurance may be more complex than traditional accidents, so having the advice from an expert personal attorney at Altman & Altman LLP is always a good idea.

Insurance implications as a passenger in an Uber

Driving as a passenger with Uber has several possible implications. While Uber has advertised its $1 million insurance policy as a means to make drivers comfortable with the idea that they are covered for any potential injuries that may occur if their Uber drivers get into an accident, this is not always the case.

There are different tiers, or categories, associated with Uber’s coverage of its drivers. If a driver is actively working as an Uber driver and is carrying a passenger at the time of an accident, the $1 million Uber policy is in play – however, this does not mean that Uber is compelled to pay out claims for that accident.

This is because Uber does not consider its drivers to be employees, but rather they are classified as independent contractors. As a result, if they feel as though the driver was at fault for the accident in any way, they may deny a claim against their insurance policy. The result, then, could be that the driver’s own personal insurance policy is left as the only recourse – which may be insufficient for the degree of injury you sustain. If this is the case, you have a right to sue Uber and make a claim to be compensated by their insurance provider.

Insurance implications if involved in an accident with an Uber driver

If you are a separate motorist and you get into an accident with an Uber driver, there are different implications based on the situation. First, if the Uber driver was not actively seeking rides, Uber’s insurance policy is not subject to the claims, rather the driver’s personal insurance policy is.

If the Uber driver is on the way to pick up a passenger when they get into an accident, the driver’s personal policy is once again the primary policy. However, Uber does have some liability coverage in these situations, up to $50,000 per injury with a maximum of $100,000 and up to $25,000 for property damage.

If you get into an accident with an Uber driver carrying a passenger, Uber’s $1 million insurance policy comes into play. However, as stated above, Uber can deny paying out a claim for a variety of reasons, including if the Uber driver was found to be at clear fault for the incident. In these cases, the driver’s personal insurance will be leaned on to pay out a claim.

If the Uber driver’s personal insurance policy is utilized to pay out a claim, this may also be problematic, since many insurance carriers prohibit policyholders from utilizing their vehicles as ride sharing vehicles. This may limit the amount you can collect in a claim, and leave you with no other choice but to sue Uber to try and gain financial compensation to pay for your medical expenses and damage to your property. Continue reading

The defining feature of a Tesla is that it can be set to self-driving mode. When autopilot is engaged, a Tesla can drive without the help of the human driver behind the wheel. But this futuristic feature is intended to enhance the driving experience, not replace the driver.

Apparently, nobody relayed this pertinent piece of information to Alexander Samek, a California man who was found intoxicated, and asleep, behind the wheel of his Tesla Model S. Police struggled to pull over Samek’s car for at least seven minutes as the vehicle sped down the highway at 70 miles per hour. A Boston OUI defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with OUI.

Is Tesla Fully Autonomous?

Although those in favor of autonomous vehicles claim that self-driving features will lead to a dramatic reduction in traffic injuries and deaths, incidents like the one above highlight a slew of potential problems. Tesla doesn’t market it’s vehicles as self-driving, likely to avoid lawsuits that would arise from situations like Samek’s. But what is unclear is how he was able to remain in autonomous mode for such a long time without disengaging the autopilot software. Teslas are equipped with stop-gap features intended to disengage autonomous mode if the driver touches the gas pedal, for example. Maybe Tesla is more autonomous than the company has led us to believe?

Drunk Driving on Autopilot?

Even though the vehicle was being operated on autopilot, not by Samek himself, the California man is still being charged with drunk driving.

At about 3:37 a.m. on the night of the incident, a police officer noticed a gray Tesla careening down Highway 101 near Redwood City, Palo Alto. The officer, who could see that the driver appeared to be sleeping, stopped traffic on the highway and pulled in front of the Tesla to slow it down to an eventual stop.

After multiple police vehicles pulled up to the car with lights flashing and sirens wailing, Samek woke up. He was given a field-sobriety test, which he promptly failed.

“It’s great that we have this technology; however, we need to remind people that … even though this technology is available, they need to make sure they know they are responsible for maintaining control of the vehicle,” said Art Montiel, a spokesman for the local police department. A MA OUI defense lawyer can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with OUI or any other criminal offense.

Are We Seeing a Trend?

This isn’t the first drunk driving incident involving a Tesla. In August, another California man was arrested for drunk driving after he crashed into a fire truck with his Tesla. And in a case similar to the one involving Samek, yet another California man was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after he passed out in a Tesla as it drove across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on autopilot. Continue reading

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