Disclaimer - By publishing this information on this Web site, the Boston, Massachusetts law firm of Altman & Altman LLP is not claiming to represent any clients or cases mentioned here. The content provided is designed to inform readers and is not intended as legal advice.

Stories of nursing home abuse and neglect are tragically, and disturbingly, common. If you have a loved one in a Massachusetts nursing home, don’t despair. There are ways to ensure that your loved one receives proper care in a safe, compassionate environment. Read on to learn how about choosing the best nursing home for your loved one, and how to identify elder abuse and neglect.

Choosing the Best Nursing Home for Your Loved One

If you are still in these preliminary stages, ask around. Once you’ve gotten referrals for good nursing homes, visit them yourself. The questions below will help you know what to look for when you visit.

  • Ask if you and your loved one can have a meal in the dining hall. How does the food look and taste? Meal times are also a good opportunity for social engagement. Do residents look happy? Are they smiling and talking freely?
  • Does the home look and smell clean? Nursing homes can have less-than-pleasant odors, but if the building reeks of garbage, stale urine, and feces it may indicate a larger problem.
  • Observe the staff. Do they appear to enjoy their job? Do they seem overworked and easily agitated? Do they interact well with each other? And you can do more than observe. Asking the staff these questions directly can tell a lot.
  • Also ask the staff about a day in the life of a resident. How do they spend their afternoons? Are there activities available throughout the day, or is everyone hidden away in their rooms, watching television alone?

Types of Abuse and Neglect

Elder abuse isn’t always physical. Emotional and financial abuse can be more difficult to detect. Types of abuse and neglect common in nursing homes include:

  • Physical abuse: hitting, smacking, shoving, over-use of restraints, force feeding
  • Psychological or emotional abuse: threats, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, withholding food
  • Neglect: not giving proper medications or dosages, lack of food and water, unsanitary bed linens and clothing, failing to regularly move an immobile patient to prevent bedsores
  • Financial exploitation: using money or property without the elder’s permission, forcing the elder to sign over a will or deed, forging the elder’s signature on financial documents, identity theft, stealing money
  • Sexual abuse: any type of unwanted contact of a sexual nature, including touching, rubbing, sexual assault, and rape

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Since 2010, property owners in MA can be legally responsible for damages and injuries caused by a failure to remove snow and ice. The 2010 ruling replaced 125 years of legal precedent. Previously, owners were not liable for removing “natural accumulation” of snow and ice. But today’s landlords are legally obligated to treat snow and ice as a dangerous condition. Failing to do so could result in a personal injury lawsuit.

So, How Often Does a Landlord Have to Shovel Snow or Remove Ice?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. In Boston, businesses have three hours and private residences have six hours to remove snow and ice. In Worcester, however, property owners have 12 hours. To be safe, snow and ice should be removed early and often. While it is not necessary to shovel every hour during an ongoing blizzard, doing so every few hours is a good idea. Once the snowfall has stopped, it is important for the property owner to ensure that snow is removed as quickly as possible.

Americans suffer about two million concussions annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A concussion is a mild form of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and is usually a “closed head” injury. What does that mean? Basically, concussions are most commonly caused by blunt trauma or a strong impact to the head, not penetration through the skull. When the brain bounces around in the head, it can become bruised. In some cases, internal bleeding may also occur.

Car accidents are one of the leading causes of concussions. In fact, more than 14 percent of concussions occur in motor vehicle accidents. You don’t have to experience direct impact to the head to suffer a concussion. In car accidents especially, the body may be violently jolted or shaken, causing the brain to slam against the inside of the skull. Concussion symptoms can take hours, days, or even weeks to appear. As such, it is crucial that you seek medical attention after a car accident or any type of blow to the head.

Are Concussions Dangerous?

Concussions can range from mild to severe, and the risk of long-term complications increases with the severity of the concussion. Concussions are evaluated using a grading system to determine severity. The different levels of concussion include:

  • Grade 1: No loss of consciousness. Amnesia occurs for less than 30 minutes, or not at all.
  • Grade 2: Unconscious for less than five minutes. Amnesia lasts less than 24 hours.
  • Grade 3: Unconscious for more than five minutes. Amnesia may continue for more than 24 hours.

Regardless of whether or not you lost consciousness, it is wise to visit the emergency department if you have suffered a head injury. This is especially true if your injury was accompanied by vomiting, loss of balance, or seizures. A common risk with concussion patients is something called Second Impact Syndrome, which occurs when the brain is re-injured before the first concussion injuries have healed. It is crucial to take it easy and avoid any type of impact to the head if you even suspect a mild concussion. Second Impact Syndrome can be fatal. A MA personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve suffered a concussion due to another’s negligence. Continue reading

Distracted driving is one of the biggest safety issues we face today. Distractions existed before the advent of smart phones and social media, they just weren’t as compelling. Eating while driving, changing the radio station, and talking to passengers are all forms of distraction, but they don’t elicit the same Pavlovian response as the constant dings of our cell phones.

According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA), in 2015, about 3,500 people died in accidents involving a distracted driver and nearly 400,000 were injured. Pedestrians are also at great risk of being injured or killed by a distracted driver. Kids walking to school in heavily-populated areas should be taught to use extreme caution when a vehicle is approaching. Teach your kids to never assume that the driver sees them. A Boston distracted driving attorney can help you determine how to proceed if another’s negligence has caused you harm.

Newer vehicles are being designed and manufactured with all kinds of technology intended to improve safety. Unfortunately, some of these features may wind up doing just the opposite. There is a general misconception that “hands free” devices are safer than their hand-held counterparts. For this reason, most newer vehicle models incorporate Bluetooth technology, which allows the driver to talk on the phone without taking his hands off the wheel. But engaging in hands-free conversation while traveling 70 miles per hour on the interstate can be just as deadly as holding a phone to your ear.

27 Seconds of Distraction

According to the Chicago Tribune, a recent study found that the average driver remains distracted for up to 27 seconds after sending a text or e-mail. Even though you ended the distracting activity, it may take this long for your mind to re-focus on the task at hand. This fact also sheds light on another problem –  sending texts and emails while stopped at a red light or in heavy traffic. People often think this is a safe alternative to texting while driving, but study results show otherwise. Any task that takes the driver’s attention from the road creates a risk. Even a viewer console screen intended to improve the driving experience can be a distraction. A MA auto accident attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured in an accident involving a distracted driver.

“Hands Free Does Not Mean Brain Free”

Distracted driving-related deaths and injuries continue to rise. Entertainment features, navigational systems, and technology that allows drivers to send emails and post on Facebook while driving are just a few of the new vehicle technologies contributing to this urgent problem. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, hands free does not mean brain free. The agency, which recently funded a study on cognitive distraction while behind the wheel, suggests disabling entertainment features and other distractions while driving. For example, most smart phones now have a feature that prevents the device from sending any type of notification while the user is driving. Ultimately, it is the driver’s responsibility to avoid the temptation to check text messages and social media while driving. But utilizing a smart phone’s driving feature may help. Continue reading

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that used to be a key component of many industrial and construction products. Unfortunately, asbestos also happens to be highly-carcinogenic.

Mesothelioma is a slow-growing type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Although this carcinogenic substance has been mostly-banned since the early 1980s, exposure is still possible.

Even people who haven’t worked with asbestos in decades can be at risk of asbestos-related disease. In fact, symptoms of mesothelioma can take up to 40 years to appear. For many people, the diagnosis comes too late.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, what are your options? With diagnoses often coming decades after exposure, what is the statute of limitations on mesothelioma lawsuits? A Boston personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

How Does Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is only caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos has long been used for its fire-retardant properties. When microscopic particles of asbestos are released into the air in the form of dust, they can be inhaled, becoming lodged in the lungs or digestive system. These particles can lead to inflammation of the lungs or abdomen, leading to chronic health problems or mesothelioma.

Before the dangers of asbestos were widely known, it was used in everything from brake pads and cement to electric ovens and hotplate wiring. Asbestos exposure is still common in shipyards, oil refineries, power plants, auto repair shops, and in sites involving the construction or demolition of buildings built prior to 1980.

MA Follows the General Tort Statute of Limitations

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you must file a lawsuit within a certain amount of time. This is known as the statute of limitations. Although this time period varies from state to state, Massachusetts does not have a statute of limitations specific to asbestos-related illnesses. As such, the statute of limitations for mesothelioma lawsuits in MA follows the general tort statute.

The general tort statute holds that a lawsuit must be filed within three years of the cause of action, which – in this case – would be the plaintiff’s diagnosis of mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. If the individual dies of mesothelioma, the three year statute of limitations would begin on the date of death, or on the date the heirs should have known about their loved one’s diagnosis, whichever comes first. A MA personal injury attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

As stated above, mesothelioma symptoms may not appear for decades. As such, if you worked with mesothelioma in the past, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor, even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Pain or pressure in the chest, especially under the ribs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing, especially if painful
  • Strange lumps under the skin on your chest
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Strange lumps in the abdomen

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Slip and fall accidents are one of the most common, and costly, workplace accidents. About $70 billion is spent annually on compensation and medical costs related to on-the-job slip and fall accidents. But people don’t only fall at work. Each year, fifty percent of all accidental deaths in the home are caused by falls. Slip and fall accidents in stores, parking lots, and stairwells also occur with surprising frequency.

As one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries and accidental death, falls also lead to quite a few personal injury lawsuits. Below are some recent slip and fall cases that resulted in substantial awards for the injury victims. A MA personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident.

 

  • Earlier this month, an Alabama man who tripped over a pallet and fell while shopping in a Walmart was awarded $7.5 million for his injuries, which included a shattered hip. Although slip and fall lawsuits often settle for large sums of money, an award of more than seven million is rare. In this particular case, however, footage from the security camera revealed that many shoppers had tripped over the same pallet.

 

  • Xiaolei Zeng was recently injured in a Virginia Ikea store when a stack of countertops fell on her, crushing her pelvis. According to doctors, Zeng will experience chronic pain as a result of her injuries. A jury awarded her $3.2 million. A Boston slip and fall accident lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

 

  • George Wallace, a Las Vegas comedian, sustained serious injuries in a slip and fall accident at the Bellagio. The casino was found liable for the faulty wiring job that tripped Wallace, resulting in permanent tendon damage. The jury awarded Wallace $1.3 million for his injuries and lost income.

 

  • Earlier this year, Bill Waite tripped on an unmarked step along a sidewalk, striking his head on a chair. Waite, who was left blind by the accident, was awarded $4 million in damages.

 

  • Colorado trucker, Holly Avery, slipped on a grease spill at a Walmart loading dock earlier this year. As a result, Avery suffered debilitating injuries to her back. Walmart denied the spill existed only to later find that an investigation into a grease spill at the site was noted in city records. In this case, Walmart had to pay even more than in the pallet case above. Avery received $10 million in damages.

 

  • Lorna Bernhoft, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, was paralyzed when she fell through a fourth floor skylight in an off-campus residence. Bernhoft settled with the building’s owners for $11.6 million.

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The frequency of traumatic brain injury (TBI) for Americans is eight times greater than that of breast cancer, spinal-cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS combined. TBI is a serious, and potentially-life threatening medical condition that affects an estimated 1.7 million people annually. Of those, about 275,000 will require hospitalization, and approximately 52,000 will die.

Common causes of TBIs include high-impact sports, motor vehicle accidents, and falls. Although TBIs can affect any person at any age, our risk of TBI increases as we get older. Adults age 75 and older have the greatest risk of hospitalization and death from TBI.

Despite its prevalence in the U.S., TBI remains a commonly misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated medical condition. The myths below can lead to improper treatment, irreparable damage, and even death.

Myth #1 -TBI is always preceded by a loss of consciousness.

Recent advances in the medical community’s understanding of TBI have debunked this rather controversial myth. Today, the general consensus among doctors experienced in TBI is that a patient does not need to lose consciousness to suffer a TBI.

Myth #2 – If the individual looks fine and has no immediate symptoms, TBI is not a concern.

A person who has suffered a TBI may retain consciousness, appear healthy, and be able to walk and talk normally. TBI symptoms are often so subtle that the patient simply feels “off,” or slightly different. For some people, TBI symptoms don’t become apparent for weeks or months. Even so, they may have sustained serious internal damage. If untreated, this damage could lead to permanent psychological and neurological problems. A Boston personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you believe you’ve suffered a TBI.

Myth #3 – Mild TBIs are not a big deal.

Even mild concussions and TBIs can have life-long psychological and neurological consequences. Symptoms of a mild TBI may include headaches, nausea, dizziness, noise and light sensitivity, problems with balance, vision and hearing problems, sleep problems, memory loss, personality changes, irritability, impulsivity, aggression, and depression.

Myth #4 – A TBI will always show up on a brain imaging scan.

Although MRI and CT scans can be helpful, this type of neuroimaging is rarely able to detect the structural differences caused by a mild TBI. These scans may appear normal, even if serious damage has been done. Slight differences, such as axonal shearing, may be too subtle to appear on the scan. That being said, other types of neuroimaging may be more effective at detecting structural differences in the brain. Functional imaging, including functional PET and MRI scans, may detect mild TBI and concussion. Unfortunately, functional testing is rarely used in clinical settings.

It’s important to know the symptoms of TBI, but it’s equally important to understand that symptoms may not be immediately apparent. If you have suffered any type of trauma to the head, it is in your best interest to seek immediate medical attention. There are many myths about TBI, and some of these misconceptions can lead to long-term or permanent damage. A MA personal injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been harmed due to another’s negligence. Continue reading

Moments after being reprimanded by one of his professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 25-year old Han Nguyen committed suicide. Nguyen had been struggling with depression, according to his attorney, but the prestigious university failed to get him the treatment he required. Could MIT be liable for a student’s suicide?

Universities across the nation are watching this legal battle unfold, with baited breath. A decision against MIT would likely cause alarm in institutions of higher education. Critics believe that such a decision would put an unfair burden on employees who are not trained to detect potentially-suicidal students. But Nguyen’s family claims that officials at the university knew of his suicide risk and did nothing to help. According to court records, a professor told colleagues to pass Han or they might end up with “blood on their hands,” and he was “read the riot act” moments before committing suicide for an allegedly-inappropriate email he had sent.

According to MIT, the school was unaware of the severity of Nguyen’s condition because he was receiving treatment by outside professionals. In fact, he had refused on-campus treatment.

“Mr. Nguyen’s suicide was a tragedy. That does not warrant a legal conclusion that MIT or any individual associated with MIT had a legal duty to prevent it”

We will continue to monitor this case and have blog updates once the court rule on this important issue.

Could a Decision Against MIT Have Unintended Consequences?

Harvard and Boston College, along with 16 other colleges and universities, have voiced concerns that a decision in favor of Nguyen’s family could have harmful consequences. Fearing liability, untrained professors and other staff might overreact to situations concerning students’ safety, resulting in a reluctance among students to report their problems. Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, thinks their concerns are valid.

“To the extent that you heighten every resident assistant’s sensitivity to the risk of suicidality, with the threat of liability hanging over them, they are far more likely to over predict, over intervene, see it where it’s not,” said Appelbaum.

Did MIT Fulfill its Duty to Provide Reasonable Care?

But supporters of Nguyen’s family think these concerns are invalid. According to the family’s attorney, they only wish to affirm that the duty to provide a reasonable level of care ““extends to the ivory tower as it does every other civilized corner of the Commonwealth.”

In 2005, a MA judge ruled that an MIT dean and housemaster were not responsible for the death of a student who set fire to herself on campus. However, Elizabeth Shin’s case was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount. A Boston injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

MIT has refused to respond to questions about the Nguyen case, but said in a statement that it “remains committed to the well-being of its students, offering a robust network of support resources, including comprehensive mental health services.” Continue reading

In November 2013, Suzanne Barnum was injured when she tripped over a pallet jack in a Home Depot store in Joliet, Illinois. As a result, she is suing both Home Depot and an outside vendor for her injuries. In this particular case, the question of who left the pallet jack in the aisle has been difficult to answer. At the time of the incident, employees of Glenn Walters Nursery were in the store, and may have been assisting with the pallet jack. However, both nursery employees and Home Depot employees deny that they were responsible for leaving the pallet jack unattended. According to evidence, it could have been an employee of either company.

The home improvement retailer requested that Barnum’s injury and liability claims be dismissed, arguing that they are “based on speculation and, therefore, have not created a genuine issue of material fact showing that either defendant breached its duty of ordinary care to plaintiff.”   Both Home Depot and Glenn Walters Nursery requested summary judgment, which is appropriate when a plaintiff fails to prove key elements of his or her claim.

“More Likely than Not”

Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox denied the request for a summary judgment, writing that: “In this case, the court finds that plaintiff has pointed to sufficient evidence in the record from which it can be inferred that either defendant was more likely than not to have left the pallet jack in the aisle of the garden center.”

The home goods giant and the local nursery have cited Piotrowski v. Menard in their arguments. In the Piotrowski case, a customer tripped over planter stones that had spilled onto a walkway at a Menard’s store. However, the stones could have ended up on the walkway for a number of reasons, including simply rolling out of the nearby planter, or that a customer or child moved them. In Barnum’s case, however, the explanations as to how the pallet jack ended up in the aisle are limited. Customers are not allowed to use or move pallet jacks, so the chance of anyone other than an employee or vendor being involved is slim to none.

Witness statements suggest that an employee from either company could have left the pallet jack in the aisle. There is evidence that nursery employees used it that morning, but also that a Home Depot employee helped them. Both continue to deny responsibility. A Boston personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

“Glenn Walters Nursery’s internal communications suggest that it was a Home Depot employee, which is sufficient evidence to infer that it was more likely than not Home Depot that was responsible for leaving the pallet jack in the aisle, thereby defeating its motion for summary judgment,” wrote Cox. However, such evidence doesn’t exonerate nursery employees. As such, Glenn Walters’ request for summary judgment was also denied.  Continue reading

A little girl suffered a fatal fall on a Carnival cruise ship last week, raising questions about whether cruises are safe for young children. Zion Smith, an eight-year-old from the Bahamas, was waiting with her family to disembark the ship. Smith and her brother were leaning on an upper-deck railing to watch other guests disembark when she fell two stories to a deck below. According to Miami Dade Police, the ship was docked at PortMiami at the time of the accident. The child was rushed to the hospital, where she later died.

Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokeswoman for Carnival, assured the public that Carnival is an extremely safe cruise line for everyone, children included. She said that the railing from which the girl fell was 47-inches high.

“We hold broad appeal to the family market based on the fun, safe and secure vacation experience we provide,” said de la Cruz. She went on to say that more children cruise on Carnival than any other cruise line. Approximately 800,000 children are expected to sail on Carnival in 2017.

Lifeguards on Duty?

Other cruise lines, including Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, have made headlines in recent years for drownings on onboard swimming pools. In response, several cruise lines have added lifeguards, but it’s still “swim at your own risk” on many cruise ships. A Boston personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured on a cruise ship.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 30 reported incidents during the three-month period between April and June 2017. These included 19 sexual assaults and a missing person. And in 2016, the Carnival Pride struck a gangway while docked in Baltimore, causing more than $2 million in damages.

Types of Cruise Accidents

The numbers above may sound high, but remember that millions of people take cruises without incident every year. When accidents do occur, they are generally classified as one of the following:

  • Mechanical – power loss, fire
  • Weather related – storms, hurricanes, heavy fogs
  • Illness – gastrointestinal problems, such as Norovirus and Influenza, and other outbreaks of food poisoning or fever
  • Injuries – fractures, assault, sexual assault
  • Criminal offenses – theft, indecent exposure, drug possession
  • Deaths – missing persons, onboard drowning, falling or jumping overboard, murder, suicide, heart attack
  • Disasters – collisions, sinking, pirate attacks, capsizing

Although the above accidents and incidents are all possible, most are rare. Norovirus illness is actually one of the most common cruise injuries, with an average of 15 outbreaks annually. Continue reading