Most people don’t wake up in the morning and consider the possibility of sustaining a life-changing injury as they go about their day. And even when the worst happens, many don’t realize they may be entitled to financial restitution that can really make a difference in their time of need. This is the realm of personal injury law, also known as tort law. But what qualifies as a “personal injury?” And what skills should you look for in a personal injury lawyer? In this post, we’ll look at twelve of the most common kinds of injury cases and some factors victims should keep in mind when selecting legal representation.
1. Alcohol-Related Accidents
Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol carries hefty penalties in the state of Massachusetts. First-time offenders face up to 2.5 years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $5000, plus having their driver’s license suspended for 45-90 days. Repeat offenses carry increasingly severe fines and prison sentences (ex. up to $50K in fines and/or 5 years in prison for the fifth offense), as well as other measures like the court-mandated use of an ignition interlock device and the possibility of a lifetime license suspension.
[ Further reading: Massachusetts laws about drunk or drugged driving ]
However, these are only the legal punishments for this kind of offense and will be handled by the state prosecutor in criminal court. The outcome of the criminal case may not include restitution for any victims the impaired motorist may have injured. If you or someone you love is injured by a drunk or drugged driver, a personal injury lawyer can help you pursue a case in civil court to get financial compensation.
One important factor in these cases is that, while there’s typically a good case for liability, the driver may not have enough insurance to cover the full extent of the damages. Many people are uninsured or insured only for a very small amount, not enough to cover medical expenses for a catastrophic injury. In this situation, the injured party may also be able to pursue a liquor liability or “dram shop” case, depending on the circumstances.
Liquor Liability Cases
In Massachusetts, it’s illegal for a business to sell or serve alcohol to an individual that is underage or visibly intoxicated. The law applies to any establishment that sells or serves alcohol, including liquor stores, bars, restaurants, social clubs, and nightclubs. In some limited circumstances, even private individuals have been held liable for the negligence of a guest to whom they have served alcohol. (However, thus far, the courts have limited this so-called “social host” liability to people who have served alcohol to minors.)
Most bars, liquor stores, restaurants, etc. carry insurance to cover accidents caused by intoxicated patrons who leave their establishment, so there may be a means to recover against such a business if you or a loved one is seriously injured or killed by a drunk driver who was over-served.
2. Bad Faith Insurance Claims
Unfortunately, insurance companies have been known to try to pull one over on their customers, even though the law requires that they treat you fairly. The Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, General Laws chapter 93A, provides the general public with a very powerful tool for holding companies accountable for their unfair practices. It allows customers to sue for damages and make the insurance company pay their legal fees and all the costs of the litigation. And if the judge finds that the unfair practice was a “willful or knowing” or a “bad faith” violation, the court may award the victim up to triple the actual damages as a penalty.
General Laws chapter 176D sets out a long list of rights and protections you have against bad faith insurance practices, but these laws also have specific detailed procedural requirements that must be followed, or you may lose a valid claim. For example, a Demand Letter must be sent 30 days prior to filing a suit and must meet certain legal requirements. The Demand Letter will almost always be challenged by the insurance company as insufficient, and you need an experienced personal injury lawyer to figure out how to respond when that happens.
3. Car, Truck, & Motorcycle Accidents
Traffic deaths in the United States hit a 16-year high in 2021, with Massachusetts seeing a surge of 24% since 2019. Research indicates the cause may lie in an increase in drivers engaging in risky behavior on the roads during the pandemic, including speeding and not wearing a seatbelt.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a crash that was caused by another driver’s negligence, you need to get experienced legal representation on your side as soon as possible. Insurance adjusters are experts in limiting or eliminating the amount of money that it will have to pay out for medical treatment or settlements. They know and practice every trick in the book, both fair and dirty. It’s not that insurance company adjusters are necessarily dishonest; it’s just that insurance companies are in business to make a profit for their shareholders, and they have a vested interest in reducing claims against their company to the bare minimum.
4. Bicycle Accidents
As of the publication of this post, MassDOT has received reports of almost 450 crashes involving bicyclists in the past year. Many of these accidents resulted in head injuries. Without proper protection, a bike crash or even a fall from a bike can cause traumatic brain damage or death. Approved helmets have been shown to reduce head injury by 85%. Many children and adults, however, do not wear them. Massachusetts law requires individuals who are 16 years old and under to wear a helmet, but all cyclists should!
In the event of a collision with a motor vehicle, cyclists should call emergency services if they’re able, and wait at the scene of the accident for them to arrive. Even minor auto/bicycle collisions can produce serious injuries that may not become apparent until hours or days after the accident. Never assume that the accident is too minor to follow proper legal procedures and to call the police. Under no circumstances should you ever leave the scene of an accident until the officer(s) have arrived and dismissed you. At that point, it may be beneficial to secure a lawyer, especially if the crash was a result of another party’s negligent actions.
5. Commuter Rail, Subway, & Bus Accidents
Getting seriously hurt isn’t usually on the minds of the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use Amtrak, the “T,” and MBTA buses on a daily basis. All too often, however, people suffer severe injuries and even death when they are involved in collisions or other accidents while riding on public transportation. Trains or buses may collide with other trains or buses, or other vehicles on the road while you are riding on them. Commuters may be injured getting on and off of public transportation, or a pedestrian may be run into by an MBTA vehicle.
Injured parties dealing with public transportation providers need the help of an experienced law firm. Cases involving the MBTA, Amtrak, and other railroad companies are typically governed by complex state and federal regulations. These laws dictate how and when claims can be brought, and there are often strict time limits involved. A personal injury lawyer can navigate these bureaucratic challenges to help bring your case to a successful conclusion.
6. Construction Accidents
Construction site accidents happen every year in Massachusetts and throughout the country. For example, a 37-year-old Boston man was killed while working at a construction site in Downtown Crossing when the scissor lift he was operating malfunctioned. In another incident, two construction workers were injured when the chutes used to move cement gave way and fell on them from an estimated height of 35 feet. In yet another incident, two construction workers were seriously injured due to a partial collapse of the upper floors of a building under construction in Boston’s Theater District. And the list goes on and on. On average, 1000 or more workers die each year from construction site accidents.
In Massachusetts, a worker generally cannot sue his or her employer when the worker is injured on the job – instead, the worker receives Workers’ Compensation benefits. But there are often others responsible for ensuring safety on the job site, like another party who was present on site, or a general contractor or safety supervisor. Sometimes injuries are caused by another employer’s crew or by defective equipment or machinery. You may have a valid claim if people or businesses other than your employer or co-workers are responsible for safety or supervision. And prosecuting those claims will not only compensate you for your injuries, but it can also lead to better safety measures so other workers will not be injured or killed.
7. Defective Products
Products that you use every day can cause injury or death because of a defective design, a manufacturing flaw, or because the manufacturer failed to warn you about certain product restrictions, like the amount of weight that a ladder or jack can hold, or other important information necessary to use the product safely.
You have a right to expect that the products you use at home or on the job are safe. Tools, medical devices, automobiles, and even toys are sometimes defective and dangerous. Manufacturers and distributors often fail to put real warnings on their products. When a manufacturer has cut corners and put defective products into the marketplace or failed to put appropriate warning labels on a product and someone gets hurt, that manufacturer or distributor can and should be held accountable. It’s part of doing business and it makes us all safer. The warning labels we are all familiar with on snowblowers, power saws, ladders, electric heaters, and other commonly used products are likely there because an injured consumer sued the manufacturer to make sure that others are not put in danger.
The two most common places for electrical injuries to occur are in the home and on construction sites. Coming into contact with live overhead power lines is the most frequent type of electrocution on a job site, and often happens to homeowners too. Severe burns, permanent nerve damage, and even heart attacks can occur when someone comes into contact with an electrical power line. Workers directing a crane or even standing near a crane or other boomed vehicle that contacts a power line are in danger of electrocution.
In the home, the normal voltage of a typical plug socket is 120 volts, while stove and dryer plugs are typically a very dangerous 240 volts. This is enough to kill a healthy grown adult. Use care or call an electrician if a plug socket or a light switch is making any strange buzzing sounds or feels hot. It’s also important to protect children from access to plug sockets.
In both of these cases, liability for injury in an electric shock accident depends on where the accident occurred, who was involved, and the source of the electric shock. An appliance could have manufacturing defects or a piece of equipment may not be properly grounded or maintained. If you or a loved one is injured in this way, a personal injury lawyer can help conduct an investigation and get you the financial restitution you need.
9. Explosions & Fire
Fires and explosions can cause severe injuries, including burns, scarring, lung damage, hearing loss, and brain injury. Burns alone are one of the most painful injuries anyone can suffer, and the consequences of smoke inhalation can be insidious and deadly. In addition, one of the most commonly overlooked injuries is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can occur as a result of the shock and trauma related to the incident.
Fires and explosions are often caused by carelessness. They may be caused by faulty wiring, defective furnaces, stoves, or other electrical products, smoking, or gas leaks. They may be the result of the carelessness of a contractor, sub-contractor, supplier, or product manufacturer. Occasionally, they are set intentionally by someone, which is known as arson. Detecting the cause of a fire or explosion requires experts, and those experts should be brought in early to do their work properly. In this type of case, it’s critical that your lawyer has the experience and resources to work with these experts to make your civil suit successful.
10. Injuries on Property
People are often injured while on someone else’s property or in their home or business. Sometimes no one is to blame, but other times the injury is the result of carelessness in failing to guard against dangerous conditions or defects on the property. You may have heard of these referred to as “slip-and-fall” cases.
In Massachusetts, property owners must use reasonable care in the removal of snow and ice from their property or else be held liable for injuries. Owners or managers of property can also be held liable for injuries caused by building code violations and other hazards, like broken stairs, an unguarded swimming pool, automatic doors that close too fast, weak railings, debris or food left on the floor of the grocery store or restaurant, or product displays that collapse.
11. Medical Malpractice
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are injured or die because of medical errors. These errors can be the result of overwork, poor judgment, inexperience, lack of training, inadequate staffing, carelessness, or (rarely) malintent. When these incidents occur, they are often devastating. Some examples of medical errors that may be caused by the negligence of a medical provider include:
- Injury to baby or mother following childbirth
- Misdiagnosis or delay in the diagnosis of cancer
- Surgical and anesthesia errors
- Failure to diagnose serious medical conditions, such as heart attacks and strokes
- Medication errors
- Improper supervision of patients that are at risk of falling or choking
- Elder abuse and nursing home negligence
Choosing a personal injury lawyer carefully is especially important in a medical malpractice case. Finding out whether you or your loved one has been a victim of medical negligence is often a difficult task. Medical records are complicated, and medical providers don’t readily acknowledge their errors. You need experienced lawyers who understand medicine and who have relationships with medical experts.
There are also some procedural hurdles and mechanisms unique to litigating a medical malpractice case. Special notices must be given, and the case must be submitted to a Medical Malpractice Tribunal before it can proceed. Your lawyer needs to be familiar with these unique rules or you may lose a meritorious case due to procedural errors.
12. Toxic Airplane Cabin Air
We all know that air travel comes with risks, but some risks aren’t well known. There is a well-kept secret in the commercial airline industry that airline passengers and employees should know: cabin air breathed by passengers and flight crew is drawn from the engine compartment and can become contaminated with toxic by-products from jet engine oil. Both acute and long-term exposure to contaminated cabin air can have serious health effects, and lead to a condition known as aerotoxic syndrome.
[ Further reading: Aerotoxic Syndrome: A Hidden Health & Safety Hazard ]
Even though there have been repeated calls for change by victims and advocacy organizations, there are currently no bleed air filtration systems that have been approved for modern jets that can stop this form of contamination. Careful, routine maintenance of the engines is a great prevention measure, but unfortunately, people and companies can be negligent. If you suspect a case of aerotoxic syndrome, your best course of action is to arm yourself with strong legal representation so that manufacturers and airlines can be held accountable for the harm they have caused.
Recovery & Restitution is Possible
A catastrophic injury can be devastating to both you and your family. You have to deal with the physical and emotional pain of the injury, as well as your physical inability to do many of your everyday tasks. On top of that, the police, investigators, and insurance companies will be asking questions and, in some cases, wanting you to sign your rights away. The legal picture can be unclear and confusing to someone who has never faced it before, and it can be terrifying to realize the people who are investigating your injury do not have your interests at heart.
KJC Law Firm has over 125 years of combined experience litigating major personal injury cases. We have the resources to investigate your claim, hire the necessary experts, and get you the compensation you deserve. We understand the effects an injury can have on you and your family, and we know the methods the insurance companies will try to use to blame you, even when it isn’t your fault. We’re here to help – schedule a free consultation with our team to start your journey to restitution.