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

An airplane may seem like an unlikely place for sexual harassment or groping to occur. You are surrounded by people, flight attendants regularly patrol the aisle and it would seem difficult for a perpetrator to believe they could get away with such a blatant, criminal act. However, recent news shows this is unfortunately wishful thinking, and such activity does occur in our skies every year. If you or a loved one were sexually harassed or assaulted on a plane, contact an attorney from Altman & Altman LLP right away to get started on your case.

According to the FBI, there were 38 cases of in-flight sexual assault between 2013 and 2014, which increased to 63 cases between 2016 and 2017, according to an advisory that was published by the FBI in 2018.

Most recently, a U.S. Army veteran reported that she was groped while relaxing during a late-night flight in which the cabin was darkened for the passengers to get some sleep. When she alerted a flight attendant, she was reportedly simply told to return to her seat. Another passenger had a similar experience, ABC News reported recently.

Those two passengers’ experiences are now the basis of a first of its kind class action lawsuit against Frontier Airlines, the airline company on which the assaults allegedly occurred. The suit claims that Frontier employees “fail[ed] to have and/or follow policies and procedures to prevent, report and respond to sexual assault of its passengers on its flights.”

Although the problem of in-flight sexual assault incidents – most commonly incidents of groping – is well established, the suit makes the case that airlines are not doing enough to prevent them from occurring or, at the least, not doing enough to train staff in the event that such an event occurs. The attorneys from this class action suit allege that airlines handle these cases in “piecemeal fashion,” meaning that there is no uniform way in which they are dealt with or trained for.

In this case, the U.S. Army veteran who was allegedly assaulted reported not being allowed to move away to a different seat further away from the person she just said assaulted her. Additionally, the flight attendant apparently failed to report the incident to their superiors or request law enforcement officials to be standing by to take a report of the occurrence and question the accuser and accused, nor did the airline attempt to question any potential witnesses about what occurred.

The veteran told the pilots of the occurrence, who did alert local law enforcement and TSA agents, and she ultimately contacted the FBI – but no charges were filed as a result. She said the incident “humiliated” her and that she “went to the people who I thought would make it alright and they didn’t.” Continue reading

A cruise should be a relaxing, carefree getaway from the stress of daily life. Unfortunately, some cruise ship companies have gotten into hot water in the past for failing to adequately maintain their amenities and keep their guests’ health at the center of their efforts. If you experienced unacceptable conditions on a cruise ship – such as a bed bug infestation or if you contracted an illness – contact the personal injury attorneys at the Cambridge firm of Altman & Altman LLP right away.

What happened on your cruise?

There is no shortage of horror stories that have emerged over the years as a result of poor conditions on cruise ships. Bacteria born in onboard hot tubs and whirpools have given people horribly rashes and skin afflictions; foodborne illnesses occur in cruise ship food every year; and unsanitary conditions within cruise ship bedrooms and bathrooms are also commonly reported.

However, a recent story that emerged is likely to make your skin crawl – as an actress with a role in the Netflix film “Marriage Story” made headlines when she filed a federal lawsuit against Princess Cruise Lines after discovering she had been given a room infested with bed bugs. She is seeking at least $75,000 on charges of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery, CNN reports.

While the cruise line maintains that its cleaning attendants are trained in identifying signs of bed bugs and inspect each room to ensure they haven’t taken residence, clearly they are not infallible or incapable of having a negligent member on staff. They have since said that no evidence of bed bugs were found upon an investigation.

This contradicts with video evidence taken by the actress and her husband, which allegedly showed tiny bugs scurrying back and forth on the sheets of the bed. The couple also allegedly showed their bites in images that were shared by their law firm. They claim the episode caused “pain, discomfort, annoyance sleeplessness, inconvenience, humiliation, anxiety and emotional distress.”

On top of the experience with bed bugs, the plaintiffs allege that it took them multiple requests before they were granted access to a different room, which prolonged the distressful experience.

You have a right to a clean space to sleep

When you book an experience like a cruise, you do so with certain expectations in mind. One of those expectations is that you will have access to a safe, clean space to sleep at night. The presence of pests like bed bugs – which can keep you up at night, cause welts and emotional distress – indicates that a cruise ship company does not have their guests’ comfort in mind and may be slacking in their responsibilities to maintain clean facilities.

Bed bugs are the sign of uncleanliness. And if the sheets and bedding aren’t clean, who knows what else could be unsanitary aboard a cruise? If the beds aren’t adequately cleaned, it could mean that the kitchen area is not maintained well, or that the whirpool or spa isn’t scrubbed to prevent a buildup of potentially harmful bacteria. Continue reading

Often we assume that dangers outside the home are the most likely to cause us harm. However, sometimes it’s the items found within our own homes can cause debilitating injuries or even wrongful deaths. Items like heavy furniture can be especially dangerous to children, and if you or a loved one or a child was injured or wrongfully killed in an accident involving furniture or other household items, contact a wrongful death attorney at the Cambridge law offices of Altman & Altman LLP today.

These tragedies can occur at any time

It may seem unlikely, but a furniture-related accident can happen at any time. Consider how easily a young child can wander away from your watchful eye. It can only take a matter of seconds before a child pulls out a drawer of a dresser and stands in it, simply wanting to play, only for the whole dresser to become off balance and fall onto the child.

These types of accidents have taken the lives of children in places across the world. Most recently, a California family was awarded $46 million in a settlement with Swedish furniture giant Ikea after a similar accident involving a dresser claimed the life of their two-year-old child. It is reportedly the largest settlement paid to a family for the wrongful death of a single child in United States history. In 2016, Ikea paid $50 million to the families of three other children who had been killed by the same type of dresser.

Families of the child victims say that Ikea was aware of the potential dangers involving that specific dresser, especially after the settlement in 2016. Despite this knowledge, they alleged the company did not do enough to get dangerous dressers recalled or do enough to promote better safety in newer models they produced since the wrongful deaths occurred. Ikea, through a spokesperson, took responsibility for the action and offered their condolences to the California family.

Children aren’t the only ones at risk

While children are vulnerable to furniture-related accidents more than an able-bodied adult would be, children are not the only one who can be injured in such an incident. The elderly – especially those who are living alone or with minimal supervision – can easily become injured if a heavy piece of furniture were to topple over.

Perhaps they lose their balance and grab for the nearest thing to catch them, and the furniture is on wheels without any braking mechanism or is too top heavy by design. The furniture could easily then topple over and land on the senior citizen, which would likely cause severe injuries such as lacerations, broken bones, concussions or other major trauma. This could result in extensive hospital stays with necessary and risky surgery, permanent mobility problems and, in the worst cases, death. Continue reading

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