Premises liability determines who is responsible if you are injured on a specific type of property. Whether it’s a home or a business, someone is at fault.

Residential Properties

On residential properties, homeowners or tenants may be liable for injuries on the property in question. Property owners have a duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition for people on the property lawfully. Injured people can make a claim against a property owner if they can prove that the owner breached this standard duty of care and that led to the injury. Assuming the injured party was lawfully present, the question in this type of litigation is namely: what condition was the property in at it pertains to the injury? Was the condition unreasonable for the property owner to leave unrepaired? Things get a bit complex when a landlord is leasing property to a tenant. The general rule is that the residential landlord is responsible for repairs that he had reason to know were required, even if the property is leased to a tenant.

Military personnel deal with countless risks in their everyday lives, including exposure to incredibly loud noises. U.S. military veterans are 30% more likely to suffer hearing loss than the average citizen. During their service they may be exposed to noises from gunfire, explosions, heavy machinery, plane and jet engines, and much more. Military personnel have enough to worry about, and hearing loss is a preventable injury that ought to be taken seriously.

Defective dual-ended military earplugs have come under fire recently, likely enlarging the risk factor of hearing problems to four times as likely as the average citizen. The earplugs were manufactured by 3M Corporation as part of a deal with the U.S. military and were issued to service members deployed between 2002 and 2015. They were issued to protect service members from loud noises associated with their service, while still allowing them to hear low volume noises such as peers trying to communicate with them. 3M was the exclusive supplier of earplugs to the military at this time. After it was discovered that over 2 million service members have deafness and ringing in their ears, authorities found that the earplugs did not protect against what they claimed to. The result: thousands suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus who are now bringing suit against 3M.

This litigation was originally brought by Moldex-Metric, Inc., 3M’s rival company. The U.S. Department of Justice joined the case soon after. The earplugs at issue, The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2, was designed by Aero Technologies with a defective seal that allowed dangerously loud noise to penetrate the ears. Evidence surfaced that the company knew of these defects dating back to testing done in 2000 and failed to inform the military. When 3M acquired Aero several years later, they continued these deceptive practices. The poor design allows the earplugs to become dislodged and allows high levels of noise to enter the ears and cause damage. The packaging also had improper instructions, increasing the chances of hearing damage.

In 2018, The U.S. Department of Justice reached an agreement with 3M, in which they would pay a $9.1 million settlement to the government. The company has yet to remedy the toll on former military personnel and has not yet admitted liability. Continue reading

College is a major transition for young adults and is oftentimes the first experience they have out of their family’s household. This can be overwhelming, and for many, they may deal with new and different mental health struggles that they do not necessarily know how to cope with. Students may feel isolated from friends and family, pressured with their newfound freedom, and stress from the academic demands of their school. Some may be presented with alcohol or drugs for the first time, which may trigger an unknown predisposition to depression or suicidal thoughts.

Suicide among college students has been rapidly rising and is currently the second leading cause of death of adults ages 15-24. Studies indicate that 1 in 5 college students have had thoughts of suicide, with 9% reporting suicide attempts. In response, colleges have tried to counter this uptick by widening mental health services on campus and availability or suicide awareness programs.

Risk factors include

  • Major depression or personality disorders
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Traumatic or stressful life events
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Isolation and lack of support
  • Impulsiveness
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Access to a suicide method

Warning signs include

  • Mood swings
  • Decreased hygiene
  • Talking about suicide
  • Statements of hopelessness
  • Interest in death
  • Sudden happy or calm state
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor academic performance
  • Saying goodbyes
  • Giving away possessions
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Risky behavior or recklessness

What You Can Do

Friends and family that notice these warning signs can do a lot of things to help. Simply being there for the person can make a difference, but it is important to remember that your support is not a substitution for professional help. Medications and therapy have proven invaluable in treating symptoms that contribute to suicide. The national suicide prevention hotline is available 24/7. You can access it by calling 1(800)273-8255. Continue reading

A huge win for the residents of Merrimack Valley occurred through a plea agreement announced in February involving one of the state’s leading energy companies. Colombia Gas of Massachusetts was ordered to pay a $53 million criminal fine for violating the Pipeline Safety Act, causing a series of natural gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley including Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover in 2018. After a long wait, residents harmed by the explosions were finally able to hold the utility accountable for its actions.

The explosion’s killed 18-year-old Leonel Rondon when a chimney collapsed on his car in a friend’s driveway. 2 dozen more were injured requiring hospital care including two firefighters. More than 100 homes caught on fire and over 8,000 people were displaced.

$53 million is the largest fine ever imposed for a violation of the Pipeline Safety Act and is over two times the profits earned by the state’s Gas System Enhancement Plan program between 2015 and 2018. The full payment is due by July 23.

The company took full responsibility for the explosions and plead guilty to a federal felony. Its parent company, NiSource Inc., was ordered to sell off its subsidiary. It reached an agreement with Eversource in mere hours to sell the company for $1.1 billion. NiSource agreed to forfeit any profit it earned from the sale and implement safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board. The plea agreement also called for a three-year probation during which the company will be closely monitored for compliance with federal and state safety regulations. The probationary period will end when the sale is complete.

The deal still requires approval of the State Department of Utilities and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Department of Utilities has since opened a separate investigation and could eventually impose its own multi-million-dollar penalty on Columbia Gas.

The cause of the accident was determined to be over-pressurized gas lines, improper monitoring of pressure sensors, and old piping on the company’s South Union Project in South Lawrence. As a result, high pressure gas flooded the neighborhoods and caused multiple explosions.

The company knew of the disastrous potential of these gas lines evidenced by an internal memo dating back to 2015. The memo indicated that executives knew of failure to monitor gas lines, saying over-pressurization could lead to a “catastrophic event.” Federal authorities posit that Columbia Gas exhibited careless disregard for the community resulting in cutting corners and leading to this disaster.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera hopes the money can be used to help families in the affected communities. “It is clear, now more than ever, that the people of Lawrence and North Andover would have more use for this money than the federal government,” Rivera said. Most of the money is set to go to the Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund, providing support to victims of many crimes across the country. Continue reading

Has your Massachusetts business been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Has your business been forced to lay off or furlough workers, or close down entirely due to the effects of the coronavirus? Have you been denied a business interruption claim by your insurance company despite clearly being affected by the impact of the virus? If so, contact the Cambridge attorneys at Altman & Altman LLP immediately to discuss options that may be available to you.  We have successfully been handling insurance disputes for over 50 years.

What is a business interruption claim?

Although it is not mandatory for businesses to purchase an insurance policy regarding the sudden and unforeseen halting of their business operations, many will understandably do so to safeguard themselves against significant losses that may be incurred from a sudden and unexpected fire, flood, hurricane or other natural disaster.

Zantac – the medication often seen on television commercials and long touted as one of the leading over-the-counter remedies for heartburn – has been pulled from all shelves by the U.S. Food And Drug Administration (FDA) due to the confirmed presence of a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compound. The nationwide recall will go into effect immediately, and as a result all manufacturing of Zantac will cease.

Because Zantac was so popular and so heavily advertised for so many years, it is possible that millions of Americans were potentially exposed to a carcinogenic compound. Even worse, tests have shown that there could be tremendously high amounts of this cancer-causing compound in each dose of Zantac. If you believe that yourself or a loved one has contracted cancer as a result of repeated use of Zantac, contact an attorney from Altman & Altman LLP right away to discuss possible legal action.

What is dangerous about Zantac?

Zantac is simply a brand name used to market the medication. The active compound in Zantac is ranitidine, which is used to fight acid buildup in the stomach and esophagus – the cause of heartburn. However, recent tests have confirmed that Zantac also contains N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which has long been classified as a potential carcinogen in humans by the FDA.

Exposure to NDMA has been linked to various diseases, from multiple types of cancer (including the most potentially deadly forms and less severe forms) to liver failure. Although testing the effects of NDMA on humans has been limited in scope, the FDA and independent studies have long identified NDMA as potentially harmful to humans through observation of its negative effects on lab mice. More pointedly, NDMA is a compound commonly found in industrial grade pesticides and even in high octane fuels.

How much NDMA is in Zantac?

According to Valisure, the Connecticut pharmaceutical company that made the initial discovery of NDMA, there were extremely high levels of the compound in the batches of ranitidine they tested – regardless of the dosage or where the drug was manufactured. They reported that there was as much as 3 million nanograms of NDMA in each Zantac tablet – which is over 31,000 times more than the recommended daily intake of 96 nanograms set by the FDA.

Unfortunately, the FDA did not immediately take heed from Valisure’s testing, and Zantac continued to be manufactured and sold to people across the country. It was only until this week that an independent investigation from the FDA finally convinced them to act.

What is the status of Zantac now? Should I stop taking it?

As of this week, the FDA has officially called for a full recall of Zantac products – meaning that manufacturing and sale of all variants of the drug must come to an end. This adds to a series of voluntary recalls that have occurred over the years from various manufacturers of the drug – as well as retail chains such as Walmart, Walgreens and CVS, which previously halted sale of Zantac and its generic forms.

This new recall means that anyone who regularly uses Zantac for heartburn relief should instantly stop doing so, as there is good reason to suspect it may negatively impact your health – especially if you rely on it regularly to treat heartburn and indigestion issues. As always, contact your healthcare provider with concerns you have, and with questions about what medication might work in place of Zantac. There are multiple medications, such as Pepcid, Nexium and Prilosec which have not tested positive for the presence of NDMA.

Did drug manufacturers know about this health risk?

There is some evidence to suggest that Sanofi – the manufacturer of Zantac – could have reasonably known about the possibility of Zantac being an unstable drug as far back as 2002, and that such instability could potentially result in the production of NDMA. In fact, the FDA’s most recent findings included the fact that improperly stored Zantac – for example, if it was stored at high temperatures – could especially lead to the production of NDMA.

Prior studies have found that patients taking ranitidine had large increases in the concentration of NDMA in their urine following tests. Others showed that ranitidine is a possible “precursor” to NDMA. This essentially means that the study found ranitidine is a chemical building block to the more harmful NDMA compound.

These findings suggest that there was always a chemical instability in Zantac that could potentially lead it to being dangerous, and if drug manufacturers were aware of this possibility but failed to warn consumers about it, that could mean they are liable for damages that have occurred due to the drug’s widespread use. Continue reading

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Wednesday that it would implement a full, nationwide recall of the popular over-the-counter heartburn medication, Zantac, over concerns that it could potentially introduce a cancer-causing compound into those who take it. If you or a loved one has used Zantac in the past and subsequently developed cancer, contact a personal injury attorney from the Cambridge firm of Altman & Altman LLP right away to get started on a claim.

You may be eligible to receive financial compensation through a class action lawsuit or other legal action against drug manufacturers, or other negligent third parties who allowed the production or sale of Zantac to continue despite independent lab tests showing the possible dangerousness of using Zantac.

What made the FDA recall Zantac?

Up until this week when the news broke, the FDA had been hesitant to respond to claims from independent laboratories that Zantac was potentially dangerous. Independent tests had demonstrated that there was a possibility that Zantac broke down into a compound known as NDMA (N-nitrosodimethylamine), which is a likely carcinogenic (meaning cancer causing) contaminant.

The tests revealed the creation of NDMA could occur inside of the patient’s digestive system once the medicine was ingested. One alarming study showed that just one Zantac tablet could potentially create 3 million nanograms of NDMA – when the recommended maximum amount of NDMA that a human should absorb in a day, according to the FDA, is just 96 nanograms.

Despite these alarming tests, the FDA only decided to issue a nationwide recall of all Zantac products once their independent investigation into the popular drug showed that NDMA production could occur if the medicine was stored at a higher-than-normal temperature. In their statements to press, they make the claim that they only pulled the medicine out of an abundance of caution.

How dangerous is NDMA?

NDMA is presumed carcinogenic due to its cancer-causing qualities in laboratory experiments on mice. It has been observed to be linked to various cancers, including liver, intestinal, esophageal, stomach, colorectal and, in more limited capacities, it has been linked to prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and leukemia.

Claims and lawsuits against Zantac for its presumed role in the causation of cancer are already in motion, but none have come to a settlement or award yet. With the announcement of the full, nationwide recall, it is likely much more attention will be paid to this issue and more claims will likely begin to pile up. Continue reading

Altman & Altman LLP is actively reviewing claims regarding cases of nicotine addiction that have occurred due to the widespread use of Juul brand vaporizers. Specifically, we are pursuing claims from individuals who used a Juul vaporizer before they were 18 years of age, and used it prior to November 2018.

Juul vaporizers (also known as vapes and e-cigarettes) have long been marketed as a “safer” alternative to traditional cigarettes. They have utilized the advertising slogan “Make the Switch,” meaning they intend to be a replacement for nicotine-addicted individuals who are either trying to quit nicotine entirely or are looking for a supposedly less harmful way to consume nicotine. With a streamlined, sleek appearance about the size of a standard USB flash drive, and a simple two-piece design with replaceable nicotine-laden oil cartridges, Juuls have become incredibly popular.

Juul may be specifically targeted for children to use

Studies have revealed that Juuls are not only popular with adults. Children under the age of 18 regularly use Juuls in alarming numbers – as data shows that about 3.6 million kids under the age of 18 tried an e-cigarette device at least once in 2018, a 78 percent increase over the prior year.

Combine this knowledge with the fact that Juul pods contain a higher concentration of nicotine than other e-cigarettes, and that children are more susceptible to developing addictions, and what you’re left with is a ripe recipe for children to become nicotine dependent very quickly.

Not only has Juul been criticized for potentially exposing children to a harmful product without doing much to prevent them from accessing it – the company has also come under scrutiny for their development of flavored pods that would also appeal to children; such as mint and berry flavors.

Juul and “popcorn lung”

Juul vaporizers and other electronic cigarette products like them contain a chemical called diacetyl, an additive that supposedly makes the heated vapor less harsh and smoother when inhaled. Diacetyl is also a component added to movie theater popcorn butter to give it that well-known buttery flavor. The chemical is approved by the FDA for consumption as a food product.

However, overexposure to vaporized diacetyl may cause “popcorn lung,” which causes a constriction of the airways within the lungs to the point of total closure – which may lead to further respiratory complications including total lung collapse, a potentially fatal health complication. Continue reading

If you lived, owned property or owned a business in Lawrence, Andover or North Andover, Massachusetts on September 13, 2018, you may be entitled to some of a $143 million settlement between the former Columbia Gas company, which was responsible for a series of explosions that rocked those communities and directly caused one death. If you are interested in applying for settlement money, contact an attorney from Altman & Altman LLP right away.

Columbia Gas pleads guilty, pays historic fine

On September 13, 2018, over-pressured gas lines forced high-pressure gas to flood into the distribution systems of various Columbia Gas customers’ neighborhoods, which eventually led to a series of large explosions.

An investigation revealed that the company failed to account for critical pressure sensors while replacing old cast iron pipes in Lawrence. It also showed the company was aware that its lackadaisical actions could potentially cause fires and explosions, but continued to cut corners anyways. They also didn’t keep adequate records and hired inexperienced, unfit workers for jobs.

After a series of court proceedings, Columbia Gas has now formally admitted guilt to charges that it violated the federal Pipeline Safety Act, which directly led to a large number of explosions that damaged dozens of homes and businesses and personal property. The company, as a result, will have to pay the largest criminal fine ever imposed for breaking such a law – $53 million.

In total, the class action lawsuit that resulted from the incident amassed to $143 million between Columbia Gas and the thousands of individuals affected by their reckless negligence. Some of that will have to go to court and legal fees ($26.1 million), but a large portion of money is available to those who were directly or indirectly affected.

Columbia Gas, as a result of the penalty, will no longer exist. Their parent company, NiSource Inc., was forced to sell the business, which was bought recently by Eversource. Any profits from the sale went to the federal government. The final result of the process, as proclaimed by U.S. attorneys, was a resounding message to public utilities companies that putting profits over the safety of their customers will result in severe punishments and consequences.

How to access the settlement money

Accessing money from a class action settlement – even when you have a solid claim to receive that money – is anything but a straightforward process. To ensure that you are getting everything that you are entitled to receive, the best course of action is to consult with an experienced attorney well versed in navigating class action settlements.

Attorneys at Altman & Altman LLP will be able to assess how you were affected and figure out how much money you should be entitled to, and then work with you on the process of filing paperwork to obtain the settlement money. Our attorneys will be with you every step of the way to ensure that no step is forgotten and no mistakes are made, which could potentially jeopardize you receiving your settlement money to the degree that you’re entitled to or affect the timing in which you receive the money. Continue reading

It’s hard to imagine something more tragic than the loss of a life that had only just begun – but those who have experienced the tragedy of a college student committing suicide know the pain and emotional trauma that follows all too well. Even worse, sometimes clear signs are missed that could have helped or potentially saved the young person’s life. If you believe there were extenuating factors surrounding the suicide of a loved one, contact an attorney from Altman & Altman LLP to investigate right away.

Young adult suicide rates alarmingly high

According to the American College Health Association, suicide rates for young adults aged 15-24 has tripled since the 1950s – with suicide being the second most common cause of death among college students. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, too, reports it as the second leading cause of death for people between the age of 10 and 24. A study by the Harvard University Medical School found that as many as 20 percent of college students in the U.S. reported having suicidal thoughts in the course of one year.

There is not an empirically accepted reason for why this is, as much research still being conducted, but factors may include the fact that college students are not only removed from their support networks for the first time in their lives, they are also likely under the most pressure to succeed in their lives as well. They are tasked with excelling in school while maintaining a social life on their own, all with the knowledge that they should have a good idea of what they want to do for work for the rest of their lives within the four-year window of schooling.

If a student already has undiagnosed mental issues or other mental problems – like a traumatic history or drug addictions – that make depression or suicidal thoughts more likely, it can create a perfect atmosphere for those tragic thoughts to take root and grow.

Many colleges have robust mental health facilities and take caution to train staff to look out for the signs of depression and anxiety – which can lead to suicide. Other campuses, however, are not so progressive in looking out for their students. Even when universities try to prevent such tragedies from occurring, it can still happen anywhere. Rowan University in New Jersey recently experienced three suicides in the span of just two months, which rocked the campus and prompted them to take steps to improve mental health counseling access and even the opening of a full-time pet therapy center. Continue reading

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