Wrongful Death and Seat Belts in Motor Vehicle Accident in Massachusetts

In a New Year’s Eve motor vehicle collision in Salisbury, a Massachusetts driver was charged with motor vehicle homicide. As charged, Mikhael Sarkis of Lawrence, Massachusetts was operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. According to the limited facts available, Mr. Sarkis is charged with driving his large sedan northbound in the southbound lane of Route One, when he collided, head on, with another large sedan at about 11:30 p.m. Alcohol was found in the vehicle. There were two passengers in Mr. Sarkis’ vehicle, Donna Bergeron, a 41 year old from New Hampshire, who was sitting in the front passenger seat and was killed. Another passenger was seriously injured. Mr. Sarkis himself was in a Boston hospital, where Quincy District Court Judge Paul Yee arraigned him. The driver of the other vehicle was also seriously injured.

Of note is that Mr. Sarkis was not wearing a seat belt. We do not know if Ms. Bergeron was protected by a seat belt, however. In the event that Ms. Bergeron’s estate files a wrongful death LINK case against Mr. Sarkis, the issue of seat belts may be a factor.

Safety Belts Save Lives

We have written about safety belts many times. In April 2011, we reminded our loyal readers that when Princess Di was killed in 1997, the sole survivor in the limousine was also the only person wearing a seat belt.  In our article in December, 2011, we alerted folks to the University of Massachusetts study that found seat belt use declining. This statistic is disturbing because nationally, seat belt use is rising, albeit slowly, according to a 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 

The Massachusetts Law on Seat Belts

The law in Massachusetts, Chapter 90, section 13A, says that you must wear a seatbelt in Massachusetts. However, it can only be enforced by the police if you are stopped for another reason. That would include random stops.

Children must be in federally approved child safety seats until they are eight years old or over 57 inches tall; once older than 8 or taller than 57 inches, they must wear seat belts. Injuries to children LINK are often caused by parents or guardians failing to enforce the seat belt law.

The law exempts only the following persons: drivers and motor vehicle passengers who have a disability note from a physician stating that wearing a seat belt would be dangerous or impossible for that person; drivers and passengers of motor vehicles built before 1966; taxi drivers, limousine drivers, tractor drivers, bus drivers, police, fire and emergency workers, and truck drivers with a gross weight of over 18,000 pounds; and emergency vehicle passengers.

Regardless of the law, seat belts save lives. Massachusetts’ Children’s Hospital, a preeminent world leader in medical care for children, published a study that found that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts alone could save $170 million in medical care and lost productive if we only had a primary seat belt law – one in which police could stop vehicles with seat belt infractions being the primary reason. The NHTA study cited above found that seat belt usage was higher in states that had the “primary enforcement” law, rather than, like Massachusetts, the “secondary” to stop law.

Notwithstanding the law, we urge our clients, their families and friends to wear seat belts.

Attorney Neil Burns has been representing victims of motor vehicle collisions  since 1985. He works directly with his clients. He provides free consultations and there is no fee until he collects money for your pain and suffering. If you need help, call 617-227-7423.

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