A fatal accident in Wilbraham, Massachusetts highlighted one of the more dangerous intersections in our state. On July 10 of this year, a 15-year old Chicopee youth was killed, and his companion injured when their vehicle apparently lost control and crashed into a tree. A paramedic at the scene described the crash scene as one of the worst he had seen.
Massachusetts Wrongful Death Lawyer
Most car accidents occur at intersections, whether controlled or not. Motorists fail to stop at red traffic lights or signs, fail to notice that traffic from the right or left do not have stop signs, fail to see pedestrians legally crossing, or are distracted or impaired. Then there are certain intersections or roadways that seem to have more accidents than others. There are various reasons why some roads are particularly dangerous and lead to numerous accidents including:
- Obstructed or lack of signs
- Confusing signs
- Sun glare
- Tree or other vegetation causing obstructions to lines of sight
- Poorly maintained roads—potholes, crevices, sudden drop offs, uneven pavement
- Lack of median barriers or defective barriers
- Poor illumination
- Fallen trees
- Improper lane widths
- Lack of a shoulder
- Pooling water
On Three Rivers Road where the above accident occurred, reports are that there have been 12 accidents on this stretch of road since January 2016. The town fire captain commented on the high incidence of crashes and blamed the configuration of the roadway in that it suddenly transitions from a suburban to rural road, or from a wide and open road that quickly transforms to a narrow or country road. If a motorist is traveling at a relatively high speed, he/she has to abruptly slow down or risk loss of control. Drivers may indeed be proceeding at the lawful speed limit just before the road changes but must immediately slow.
Because the recent fatal accident involved only the one car, fire and law enforcement speculated that speed may well have been a factor in this accident, especially considering the violent nature of the crash. According to traffic statistics, there have been 48 speeding violations recorded since January 2016 to the date of the accident on this stretch of Three Rivers Road. Of these, 19 motorists were fined and the others given warnings. This suggests that many motorists on Three River Road at or near the accident site likely failed to slow when the roadway quickly morphed to a narrower strip.
This accident begs the question of whether the surviving family members may have a cause of action for wrongful death and if so, against whom to bring the claim. Roadways, unless private, are generally designed, built and maintained by municipal governments such as the state or county. While public employees are immune from liability for negligence, the entity is not. And, like any other entity or individual, municipalities owe a duty of care to its citizens. This includes designing and maintaining a roadway that does not present an unreasonably dangerous condition. However, the city or county responsible for the roadway must have had prior notice of the defect that led to the injury and failed to remedy it. Notice can be direct or indirect, which is also referred to as constructive notice. This means that in the exercise of ordinary care, the municipality should have been aware of the defect. It will undoubtedly require the skills and experience of a Western Massachusetts car accident lawyer to determine if a viable case can be made.
In the Wilbraham accident, the data indicating the high number of accidents and speeding violations should have alerted or put the responsible public entity on notice that this stretch of Three River Road posed an unreasonable risk of harm to motorists. Unfortunately, compensation to anyone injured due to a road defect where a municipality is responsible is limited to $5000 under MGL c.84,§ 15. Further, any degree of comparative negligence by the motorist in causing the accident will bar any claim for compensation. This limitation does not apply to any non-municipal defendants.
Other avenues of compensation are possible defects in the vehicle such as steering, brake or tire issues that might have contributed to the driver’s loss of control. Otherwise, the family could receive no-fault or PIP benefits of up to $8,000 for lost earnings, medical expenses, ordinary and necessary household expenses, and funeral costs. An insurer can deny PIP benefits if the motorist was intoxicated, drove while committing a felony, or drove with the specific intent to harm himself or others.
Further, because a municipality is the defendant, you must file a written claim with the appropriate city, county or state agency within 30-days of the accident.
Damages in Wrongful Death Claims
In Massachusetts, wrongful death actions are brought by the executor or administrator for the decedent’s estate on behalf of immediate family members. Damages for the estate may include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills incurred while the decedent was being treated
- Loss of the decedent’s love and companionship, care and guidance
- Loss of income the decedent would have earned during his working life
- Pain and suffering of the decedent but only if the victim was observed to have consciously suffered before succumbing.
- Punitive damages of no less than $5,000 if the defendant’s conduct was willful and wanton or grossly negligent (punitive damages are only available in wrongful death claims in personal injury cases)
Because the victim in Wilbraham accident was only 15 years old, the estate’s claim for lost income should be supported by a forensic economist who will can consider these factors:
- The child’s age, sex, life expectancy, health and habits
- Earning potential
- Relationship of the child to eligible family members
Retain the Law Office of Burns and Jain
In any fatal car accident case, you will need the legal services of a Western Massachusetts car accident lawyer to fully investigate the claim, determine liability, and all avenues for compensation. Call a Western Massachusetts car accident lawyer from Burns and Jain at (617) 229-5374 for a free consultation about your claim.