“Tell Them You Mean Business”

Dubuque v. Cumberland Farms – Mass. Storefront Crash Verdict for $32M

Some 50 times every day, a vehicle crashes into the front of a retail store, restaurant or commercial building. In 2010, it happened at a Chicopee convenience store, resulting in the death of a 43-year-old patron.

Now, in Dubuque v. Cumberland Farms, a 12-person jury has handed down the largest-ever jury verdict in Hampden County in favor of that victim’s surviving husband and daughter: $32.3 million in damages.

Massachusetts car accident lawyers at The Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone know the case brought to the forefront the issue of storefront safety. Too often, there is a tendency to assume this sort of thing “just happens” or that the person behind the wheel shoulders all the blame.

In reality, when a storefront abuts a parking lot, there should be an assumption that something like this could happen. That means it is foreseeable. The business owes a duty of care to patrons to ensure its site is reasonably safe for business invitees. When it is not, those business owners/ managers can be held responsible.

In a case like this, something as simple as concrete bollards around the perimeter could have prevented this unnecessary tragedy.

According to the ample news coverage of this accident lawsuit, an elderly motorist was driving his sport-utility vehicle at more than 70 mph when he slammed into the storefront. At the time, the 81-year-old driver was suffering a stroke. Because of the “sudden emergency doctrine,” in which a driver faces a sudden and unexpected dangerous situation not of his or her own making, the elderly motorist could not be held criminally or civilly responsible.

The victim’s family then turned their attention to the business. They alleged that the site was vulnerable where it was located, and the business should have installed strong barriers in order to prevent vehicles from slamming into the building.

The defendants argued that no federal, state or local regulations required the business to install the barriers outside its store, and characterized decedent’s death as a traffic accident. They underscored there had never been a crash at that location since it opened in 1974.

But the plaintiff argued it was only a matter of time.

Although there may not have been a law mandating the installation of barriers, the store still owed a duty of care to make sure its customers were reasonably safe. As plaintiff attorneys explained, the store had an apex-type driveway that posed a safety risk because vehicles could drive directly at the store at high rates of speed, and there were not barriers at all protecting the people inside. Plaintiff attorneys described it as “a deadly invitation.”

Further, the injury lawyer explained that this was a company that had locations from Miami to Maine. They had ample resources to install these protections without significant hardship – about $3,000 to $3,500 per store.

And while it was true the store had never had a crash at that site before, there had been numerous problems with cars traveling at high speeds nearby and in the parking lot. What’s more, there had been hundreds of “car strikes” at other stores owned by this same company.

In the end, it was this long pattern of neglect on the part of the convenience store chain that convinced jurors more could and should have been done to ensure customers were safe from car accidents. It shouldn’t take the untimely and devastating loss of a wife and mother for a company to be proactive in protecting their patrons.

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Liability for Massachusetts Roadway Defects Resulting in Injury, Death

An airborne iron manhole cover killed a beloved 35-year-old elementary school art teacher in Massachusetts in February 2016, prompting a massive Department of Transportation inspection of 900 grates and covers on Boston-area highways.

Officials reported they had found no major issues after examining the manholes, electrical panel and sewage drainage systems. Massachusetts State Police are still investigating how the 200-pound cover launched into the air and struck the teacher’s windshield as she neared the edge of the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Tunnel.

This stunning fatality raised troubling questions about motorists’ safety in Boston and surrounding areas.

At The Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone, our auto accident lawyers know that while human error causes the majority of car crashes in the U.S., the existence of defective roads or dangerous engineering or lack of maintenance should not be overlooked.

Unfortunately, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has strong protections for local government agencies from defective streets.

M.G.L. Ch. 81, Section 18 allows the state to be held liable for any defects in highways – so long as the injuries were caused by defects within the limits of the constructed traveled roadway. There are some exceptions, though, including:

  • Injuries caused by lack of railing in or upon the state highway;
  • Injury sustained on the sidewalk of a state highway;
  • Injury during construction, reconstruction or repair of a highway.

The amount that may be recovered should not exceed one-fifth of one-percent of the valuation of the town in which the injury was received – nor can it exceed $4,000.

Obviously, that doesn’t count for much if you have suffered a serious injury.

Then there is M.G.L. Ch. 84, Section 15, which limits the recovery of damages for any person injured by a defective roadway or sidewalk to $5,000. What’s more, Section 18 of that same chapter requires the local government be put on notice within 30 days of the accident, or else claimant may not be able to recover at all.

Now, one could certainly argue the merits of insulating a government agency from responsibility for the condition of its streets and sidewalks. Unfortunately, that is the current status of the law.

Still, it is important to speak with a personal injury lawyer because there could be some cases in which a defective roadway may have been privately-owned or privately-maintained. In these cases, there may be grounds to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against one of these entities.

Additionally, it is possible that another driver may share some level of responsibility - even if a roadway defect were responsible for part of the accident. This is another avenue victim(s) might pursue in order to recover damages.

It’s not clear whether that would apply in the case of the teacher who was killed. According to officials, inspectors looked over grates and covers on I-93 from Boston to Somerville, and also inside the tunnels of the metro highway system. They discovered no obvious issues that might have signaled a problem.

The last time that particular manhole was inspected was two years ago, and an inspection report indicated the cover rated “very good.”

If you have suffered an injury in a Boston car accident, contact our offices today.

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