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I was injured as a passenger of an Uber driver, who is responsible for damages?

If you’re injured in a ride-sharing vehicle, such as Uber or Lyft, you have a right to get compensation for your injuries and other damages.

Financial responsibility typically falls on the insurance company of the at-fault driver, which may be the ride-sharing company’s driver or another driver involved in the accident who caused the crash.

The ride-sharing driver’s car insurance coverage will apply to passenger injuries only if the driver has a commercial insurance policy or a personal car insurance policy with a special provision providing insurance coverage while engaged as a ride-sharing driver. However, many ride-share drivers do not have such coverage. Additionally, personal car insurance policy will probably have a “business use exception” that won’t cover damages and injuries that occur while the insured is acting as a for-profit driver.

In the event the driver’s insurance will not cover passenger injury, Uber and Lyft carry third party liability insurance coverage which pays up to $1 million for personal injuries and property damage per accident. The third-party liability insurance will only cover costs when the ride-sharing driver is at fault for the accident, the ride-sharing driver’s own insurance has been exhausted, or, if the responsible driver is unknown, doesn’t have car insurance, or doesn’t have enough car insurance to pay for your injuries.

If the above insurance policies do not fully compensate you, or the insurance companies refuse to pay out, you can try going after the ride-sharing company itself. However, this should be considered a last resort option.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident and specifically while riding in an Uber or Lyft, contact us immediately to discuss your options.

Does Massachusetts have a 3 Strikes Law?

Many states, including Massachusetts, have what is called a “Three Strikes Law.” This rule mandates life sentences for repeat violent offenders.

Under this law, a Massachusetts judge must impose the maximum sentence for a person’s third violent felony offense. Any single person convicted of three separate felonies can be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, even if each felony only carried a two-year sentence.

A felony is the worst class of crime you can be charged with, after an infraction or misdemeanor. Any time a U.S. Citizen is charged with a felony, they are entitled to a jury trial and legal representation.

Only specific felonies can be considered under the three strike rule. Massachusetts law outlines 41 different felony charges that constitute a ‘strikeable’ offense. Persons convicted of a third strike will serve the maximum penalty and have no opportunity for parole. Since the implementation of the three strikes law, Massachusetts has gone from having one natural life felony with no possibility of parole, which was first-degree murder, to nineteen natural life felonies, if indeed the felony is a third strike.

The three strikes law has a severe impact on the sentencing of people convicted of criminal offenses. Anyone facing a felony charge in Massachusetts needs to be represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

I was bitten by a neighbor’s dog a year ago, can I file a personal injury lawsuit now?

Each state has a law that sets a deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit in the state’s civil court system after an accident. This law is called the “statute of limitations,” and the state of Massachusetts gives you three years to file a personal injury lawsuit.

The three-year time limit typically starts on the day of the accident, which would be the case in the event of a dog bite. If you don’t get your lawsuit filed within three years, you’ll lose your right to have a court hear your injury case.

Many states have a “one bite rule” where dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. In Massachusetts, however, a specific statute makes the owner “strictly liable.”

The strictly liable laws state regardless of the animal’s past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog. The dog bite statute holds the defendant liable if the plaintiff was legally allowed to be where he was when the bite occurred, and the plaintiff did not provoke the dog at the time of the dog bite.

If you have questions regarding a personal injury case, contact our office today.

My son and daughter-in-law are divorcing. As a grandmother do I have visitation rights?

Grandparents do have legal rights, however, regarding visitation, may require a court order under Massachusetts law.

In the event the grandparents and parents can come to an agreement regarding visitation, court intervention is not required. When no such agreement can be made, there are certain situations grandparents may be granted a court order allowing visitations.

Under Massachusetts law, grandparents have the right to ask a court for visitation if the parents were married and then divorced; the parents are still married, but they live apart, and there is a court order about the separation; or one or both parents are deceased.

In the event the parents never married and are living apart, paternal visitation, the grandparents on the father’s side, may be granted if the father has signed a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage” or there is a court judgment saying that he is the father, paternal visitation may be granted. Grandparents on the mother’s side, considered the maternal grandparents can ask for visitation if the father has not signed a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage” or there is no court judgment stating who the father is.

At a court hearing, the requesting grandparents will need to show visitation is in the child’s best interest, a relationship has been established, and that it will be very harmful to the child’s health, safety, or welfare in the absence of the grandparents.

Even if the grandparent did not have an important or well-established relationship with the child before the case began, the court could still grant visitation rights to protect the child from “significant harm.”

To have questions about your specific situation answered, give our office a call.

If I’m pulled over for a traffic violation, can I be penalized for refusing to take a breathalyzer test?

While it may be tempting to refuse a DUI test, it is crucial to understand the possible advantages and consequences.

You have the right to refuse to submit to any type of sobriety test, including breathalyzers. However, your refusal can have several additional consequences. While no one can be forced to give testimony against themselves, implied consent laws operate under the theory that when driving on a public roadway, you consent to the rules regarding driving while intoxicated.

Implied consent law is active in Massachusetts, and means that if you refuse to submit to a chemical test, you will be subject to a fine and automatic license suspension ranging from 180 days to 5 years. The length of your suspension will vary depending on your offense.

It’s also important to know that DUI law is the exception to your constitutional right to remain silent. DUI law is one of the few which allow prosecutors to comment on a defendant’s right to remain silent in some states.

The decision to take a sobriety test is solely yours. Most states will not allow you to put off submitting a test until you call and consult with an attorney. In many cases, this invocation of the right to counsel will be considered a refusal of sobriety or breath tests.

If you know you are not intoxicated, you may want to consider taking the breath test or sobriety test. However, if you are visibly intoxicated, taking any type of sobriety test is only going to garner more evidence against you as you will likely be arrested either way.

For the most up-to-date information regarding DUI law, give our office a call.

I recently discovered toxic mold in my apartment. Am I allowed to withhold rent until the mold is removed?

Landlords are urged to take mold seriously under Massachusetts law. Mold is considered a top environmental concern which can grow quickly.

Regardless of what may appear in a written lease agreement, landlords in Massachusetts are bound by “implied warranty of habitability.” This is a legal doctrine that requires providing tenants with apartments in livable condition. Tenants in Massachusetts have the right to pursue two common legal self-help strategies.

The first, known as “rent withholding,” is when tenants decide to stop paying rent, claiming the mold has made their apartment uninhabitable. The second strategy, known as “repair and deduct,” involves tenants taking care of mold cleanup on their own and then subtracting the cost from their rent.

Several conditions need to be met under Massachusetts law for these options to be legal. For example, regarding most rent withholding laws you cannot withhold rent if you are behind in the rent or in violation of a relevant lease clause. It is recommended that you place the withheld rent in an escrow account. You are also required to report the problem and give a reasonable opportunity to fix the issue. Additionally, the problem must be severe, not just annoying, and must imperil your health or safety.

Tenants who believe they have been harmed by the presence of high concentrations of mold in their apartment can try to recover damages from their landlord in court to compensate them for their loss. For help regarding harmful mold, give our legal team a call.

I’ve been estranged from my husband and want to remarry. Will Massachusetts grant me a Bifurcated divorce?

Bifurcation of divorce allows spouses to become legally divorced before the divorce details have been finalized.

The option to remarry is the most common use of bifurcation; however, some couples seek a bifurcation to distinguish between marriage or pre-marriage property.

In states that permit bifurcation, the court will handle the end of the marriage separately from the other divorce matters to permit the parties to remarry while providing additional time to resolve the remaining issues. This means all other resolutions such as child custody, visitation, support, distribution of property, and attorney fees are determined at a later date.

Individual states such as Texas, New York, Michigan, and Arizona do not allow bifurcation in divorce cases. Even if you are living in Massachusetts, if you were married in a state that does not allow bifurcation, it will not be granted, and all issues of the divorce must be resolved before the divorce is finalized and the couple can claim legal single status.

The process of bifurcation generally requires the filing of legal documents; however, both parties must agree to a bifurcated divorce before a court will grant one. There is an exception to this if the requesting party shows good legal cause for bifurcation and the court agrees that the action would not jeopardize the interests of the other party.

You should consult with a knowledgeable attorney before taking any action, as there are certain restrictions in place that can affect the process in various ways.

Can the police look at my cell phone if I am detained or arrested?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches and seizures, including your electronic and smart devices. Whether you’re being held under detainment or arrest, you still have protective rights.

To start, before speaking to any law enforcement official, you can state you do not wish to answer any questions without your attorney present. In many cases, law enforcement will ask you for permission to complete a search. This is the most common way searches are conducted, by people consenting to a search. You do not have to say ‘yes’ to a search.

Even when under arrest, a search of your phone data can only be conducted under limited circumstances. Following an arrest, the police generally search the items on your person and in your pockets, as well as anything within your immediate control. This is within their rights.

If a phone or other digital equipment is found, they can only examine the physical aspects of the phone. For example, an officer may remove the phone from its case or remove the battery. In the event law enforcement believes evidence on the phone is likely to be immediately destroyed, they can search your devices without a warrant.

Contact our office to learn more about your privacy rights in Massachusetts.

I’ve only been married for 2 weeks, am I eligible for an annulment?

In the state of Massachusetts, a court granted annulment means your marriage never legally happened. Each state’s legislative code sets specific guidelines for what constitutes an annullable marriage. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t annul a marriage based on a short duration. Massachusetts outlines seven specific grounds for annulment.

In Massachusetts, annulments require your marriage to be either void or voidable. There are three void marriage grounds: consanguinity, having a blood relation such as brother and sister or first cousins; affinity, meaning you’re related by marriage to your spouse; and bigamy which refers to either you or your spouse is legally married when the marriage in question was entered into. A void marriage is one that could not have existed in the first place because it was against the law at the time it started.

Additionally, there are four voidable marriage grounds. If your spouse concealed some important issue from you, fraud is a voidable marriage ground. Next, a duress ground means the marriage was entered into under threat or coercion. In the event, a spouse cannot perform sexually, and this knowledge was not disclosed before the marriage, the impotency ground may apply. Finally, if either you or your spouse was not capable of understanding what you were doing when you married, due to mental illness or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time the wedding took place, mental incapacity is the fourth ground for a voidable marriage.

If you think you may qualify for an annulment in Massachusetts or have any questions, please contact our office to speak with an attorney.

What is the difference between a revocable and irrevocable trust, and which needs do they serve?

The ability to change is at the heart of the difference between revocable and irrevocable trusts. Revocable trusts take their name from the trustee’s ability to “revoke” (i.e. change) provisions of the trust agreement after signing. These changes could include adding or removing beneficiaries of the trust by amendment or even dissolving the entire trust. Unless a successor trustee is named in the trust agreement, a revocable trust becomes irrevocable upon the death of the person or persons who formed it.

Revocable trusts can be an important tool in estate planning. Like a will, they offer a flexible option in assigning responsibilities and dividing property after one’s death. Unlike a will, however, revocable trusts do not need to be submitted to probate and will remain private. The value and division of one’s estate will not be known and thus not become a source of public speculation or possible family conflict.

Additionally, through the appointment of a successor trustee and a disability clause, a revocable trust can be used to transfer one’s property during life if one should develop dementia or another condition that prevents management of the estate.

Irrevocable trusts, by analogy, cannot be changed after signing; there is no going back on decisions made or property assigned. Irrevocable trusts are more often used near the end of life to assign one’s property to another, thus avoiding estate taxes.

Call our office today to discuss which trust or other financial instrument best suits your estate-planning needs.

Can the police look at my cell phone if I am detained or arrested?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches and seizures, including your electronic and smart devices. Whether you’re being held under detainment or arrest, you still have protective rights.

To start, before speaking to any law enforcement official, you can state you do not wish to answer any questions without your attorney present. In many cases, law enforcement will ask you for permission to complete a search. This is the most common way legal searches are conducted, by people saying yes when the police ask them if they can search.   You do not have to say ‘yes’ to a search.

Even when under arrest, a search of your phone data can only be conducted under limited circumstances. Following an arrest, the police generally search the items on your person and in your pockets, as well as anything within your immediate control. This is within their rights.

If a phone or other digital equipment is found, they can only examine the physical aspects of the phone. For example, an officer may remove the phone from its case or remove the battery. In the event law enforcement believes evidence on the phone is likely to be immediately destroyed, they can search your devices without a warrant.

Contact our office to learn more about your privacy rights in Massachusetts.

Does it really matter if I skip jury duty?

Yes—yes it does.

Skipping jury duty is an easy way to land yourself in completely unnecessary trouble. Massachusetts makes it rather difficult to miss or skip your service date. There are many chances to make right on your having skipped jury duty, but they are all time-consuming and potentially nerve-wracking.

After missing jury service, you will receive a “Failure to Appear” postcard. By phone or by mail, you can respond to this. If you have a reasonable excuse, such as illness, be sure to have a note from your doctor. You will then reschedule your service.

Ignoring this card (at your peril) will lead to a “Application for Criminal Complaint” summons to appear before a judge and explain yourself. You will likely receive a rebuke, and then be seated on the next available jury.

Not showing up to this initial hearing leads to the judge scheduling an arraignment date. Missing your arraignment date leads to a warrant for your arrest.

So don’t skip jury duty. Massachusetts makes it easy to make your service work around your schedule:

After receiving a summons in the mail, you should respond either online or in writing. You will receive a reminder notice in the mail about two weeks before your service date. The night before your service, you can call to see if you still need to report.

You can even reschedule your service online up to the day you are scheduled for. First-time rescheduling requests, by law, are always granted.

So stay out of trouble, show up for jury duty, and take pride in being part of our democratic legal system.

Does Massachusetts allow pain-and-suffering claims?

Massachusetts allows pain-and-suffering claims in some cases. Pain-and-suffering claims are considered “non-economic” in that they are not seeking to compensate for a price-tagged, financial loss caused either by damage to property or by high medical bills. The latter type are “economic” damages.

In Massachusetts, pain-and-suffering claims must usually be filed alongside economic claims. In the case of car accidents, medical claims must exceed $2000 before a pain-and-suffering claim may also be filed. For car accidents, Massachusetts law also expects victims to rely on their own, or the at-fault party’s, insurance coverage before suing.

Some states put “caps” on non-economic damage claims. In Massachusetts, there are no such caps, except in the case of medical malpractice. In medical malpractice cases, there is a cap of $500,000 that can be awarded in pain-and-suffering claims.

If you are seeking compensation for the financial and emotional toll of an injury, call our office today to discuss your options.

What is a common law marriage and how is it different from legal marriage?

When it comes to understanding common law marriages, there are a lot of misconceptions out there. You may have heard that a couple living together for 7 years or longer are automatically common law spouses. This is a false statement as common law marriage regulations are determined per state.

In fact, only 15 states recognize a common-law union, and Massachusetts isn’t one of them. Simply put, a common law marriage is one obtained purely through the conduct and relationship of the couple. Common law marriage does not require that the couple have a ceremony led by a justice of the peace, or that they obtain a marriage license. A common law family is a couple living together in a common law marriage situation with children.

States may choose to recognize common law marriages for various reasons, such as ensuring that no one is excluded from marriage for financial reasons or the belief that people should have the option to marry without government involvement. Criteria for a common law marriage is determined per state; however, all states require that the couple have the intent to be married.

While the state of Massachusetts does not recognize common law marriage, there are some exceptions. For example, families moving to Massachusetts from a state where common law marriage is recognized and meet the criteria for a common law marriage will be treated for all purposes as a legally married couple by the state of Massachusetts. The Full Faith and Credit Clause (Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution) requires Massachusetts to honor the marriage laws of sister states.

Give our office a call for additional information regarding Massachusetts common marriage laws

How do courts determine if relocation of a child to another state during a divorce is acceptable?

In situations where a custodial parent wishes to relocate with a child, the court will determine whether child custody relocation is in the best interests of the child. While a parent is free to relocate out of state themselves without the child or with the permission of the other parent to take the child, the state of Massachusetts requires a judge ruling regarding relocation contested by a parent.

Depending on the current custody agreement, the judge has two different processes for determining if relocation is in the child’s best interest. For joint or shared custody the judge will take into account the following:

  • Whether or not the quality of the child’s life will be improved and if the child will endure similar benefits as the parent from the move.
  • Adverse effects of altering visitation schedule and the extent to which the child’s relationship to the non-moving parent will be compromised.
  • How the child’s emotional, physical, or developmental needs will be impacted by moving or not moving.
  • If there is a way to create a new visitation order to allow the non-relocating parent to maintain a close and enduring bond with the child.

In the event a parent with primary custody is requesting relocation, the judge will apply what is known as the “real advantage” standard as the child’s well-being is more closely intertwined with the parent’s welfare in these situations. In this case, the judge will examine evidence of economic benefits, availability of extended family, and the desire to relocate with a new spouse. Additionally, the factors mentioned above will also be used to determine if the move is in the child’s best interest.

I hear police say they are detaining a suspect while putting them in handcuffs. What is the difference between detention and arrest?

It’s important to understand the differences between detention and an arrest because your rights change drastically from one to the other.

Anyone can be detained. The police only need reasonable suspicion to stop an individual. It is required by law that when an officer stops someone, the officer has either a search warrant, probable cause to search, or reasonable suspicion. The term reasonable suspicion refers to an officer having objectively reasonable circumstances to suspect that a detained individual is involved in, or about to be involved in a crime. A 20-minute detainment is considered a reasonable timeframe for detaining someone according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

When people are detained, it is typically for questioning about a person’s identification and purpose for being in the location. While being held, a person may be subject to a ‘patdown’ search if the police have reasonable suspicion that a person may be dangerous. While this does not mean police can immediately search pockets of bags without permission, however, if an officer comes across a weapon they may seize it to protect themselves.

Use of a metal detector, a drug-sniffing dog, or a computer search to determine if the individual has any outstanding warrants for their arrest there are other legal methods of searching during detention.

My ex-spouse has asked to pick up our children, of whom we share custody, at a different time from that stated in our custody agreement. I’m fine with the change. Do we need to alter the agreement, or is a verbal agreement enough?

As an attorney, my answer is almost always going to be “get it in writing.” While you may have the most amicable divorce in the world, you never know what the future may hold. Contracts fill the gaps left when human trust fails.
If this is a one-time, or two-time situation, a verbal agreement might suffice. Of course, without putting it in writing, if you agree to a “quick change,” you may find yourself agreeing to a years-long arrangement without intending to.

Moreover, while it is hard to think about, custody agreements in part to protect children from the threat of parental abduction. Without having a firm time or day for the hand-off, you might find yourself more anxious for the return of your children than you need to be.

If this is a longer-term change, you should definitely alter the custody agreement. If both parents agree to the change, they can jointly file a petition with the court in a fairly simple process.

Whether you are working out an initial custody agreement or need to modify one that is no longer working for your family, come discuss your individual situation with our skilled family law attorneys.

My neighbor allows her dog off-leash. While walking my own dog, the neighbor’s bit me. What recourse do I have under the law?

An aggressive dog is a menace to the neighborhood, and potentially a source of great legal trouble for the owner. In Massachusetts, a dog and its owner are not granted any leniency in terms of civil liability even if this is the first occasion on which the dog has bitten someone. Additionally, since Massachusetts is a “strict liability” state, even if a dog is restrained or an owner otherwise takes “reasonable precautions,” the owner is still at fault. The only exception to this is if the person bitten is trespassing or is tormenting, abusing or teasing the dog.

If you plan on filing charges, or a lawsuit, be sure to take pictures of your injuries and bring documentation from your doctor. If you’ve previously taken pictures of the dog running loose, this would also be helpful.
There may be additional, local ordinances against unleashed dogs that come into play. An experienced personal injury attorney, such as one of our partners, will be able to assess the individual circumstances of a dog attack.
All this assumes, however, that neither you nor your own dog did anything to provoke the neighbor’s animal. The law waves liability for the owner of a dog if the victim of the bite was trespassing or in any way harassing or tormenting the dog.

Call our office today to discuss your options for compensation following a dog bite or another injury.

I make my living in the arts. Does my spouse have a fifty percent share in rights to my works and the income they produce?

Yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that artistic works, along with patents, trade secrets, and many other “intangible” properties, constitute intellectual property. And intellectual property, in Massachusetts, is marital property.

No, in that Massachusetts does not assume “equal” (fifty-fifty) distribution of property between partners at the dissolution of a marriage, but rather “equitable.” Intellectual property falls under the requirement for equitable distribution.

In dividing something intangible, such as the rights to artistic works, Massachusetts family judges will, as with other forms of property, assess the relative contribution of partners to the marriage financially, emotionally, and logistically. Intellectual property has two sorts of value to be divided. The first is the rights to income from future royalties on a work or idea. Second, the present monetary value of a work or idea.

For creators or inventors, it may be wise to include provisions in a prenuptial agreement to protect your intellectual property. If you need help drawing up a prenuptial agreement, or if you are currently involved in a divorce without one, call our office today for expertise in handling intellectual property division.

What constitutes “malicious” destruction of property?

“Malicious” is what separates a crime from an accident that happened to destroy someone’s property. It is also worth noting that the statute covers both “destruction” and lesser “injury” to another person’s belongings, physical or digital.

In Massachusetts, the law is primarily concerned with three things: intention, motive, and cost of the destroyed property. The Commonwealth’s General Code states that destruction of property must be done “willfully” and “maliciously” in order to be a crime.

The “will” of “willfully” refers to intention, which keeps accidents in the realm of the civil courts. If one ran over a neighbor’s tulips while trying to navigate a very narrow shared driveway, this would be unlikely to result in criminal charges. If one lined up the tulips in one’s sights before running them over, this would be a different story.

The other part of the statute covers motive; this is where “maliciously” comes into play. If the destructive act was done out of anger, hatred, or revenge, and specifically targeted at the owner of the destroyed property, then it is done “in malice.” Returning to the tulips—if one had just fought with the neighbor before the destruction of the tulips, this could be interpreted by prosecutors as motive.

Penalties for malicious destruction of property are stiff, with jail time running up to ten years, along with fines in proportion to the value of the property destroyed.

If you’re facing charges of malicious destruction of property, call our office today to discuss your situation.

Always kept me informed and promptly answered all my questions

Tammie and Sarah couldn’t have done anything better! They always kept me informed and promptly answered all my questions. The genuine care and concern is apparent in the dedication and hard work they applied to my case. I highly recommend them to anyone looking for help.

Rachel B.

At a shopping center, I slipped on the wet floor and broke my tailbone. Would I sue the owners of the particular store, or of the entire complex?

Liability depends on many factors, primarily the exact location where you slipped and the cause of the wet floor.

Typically, an individual or corporation owns the building that comprises the shopping center. The owner or owners then rent out particular units to individuals or corporations. While the tenants are responsible for conditions within their particular units, the landlord remains responsible for conditions in the common spaces of the mall or shopping center. The first factor of many to consider was whether you slipped inside a particular store or in an area for which the landlord is responsible, such as a corridor, a food court, a parking lot, or a restroom. It is similar to if you were to slip in a friend’s apartment kitchen, for which they are solely responsible, versus slipping on the stairs your friend’s landlord was contractually remiss in de-icing.

From here, the issues of liability become much more complicated, revealing why it is so important to consult a personal injury attorney as you pursue compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering:

• Why was the floor wet? Was it sloppy housekeeping? Was the landlord or the tenant responsible for housekeeping in the area where you fell? Was a third party hired for housekeeping, making them partially liable as well?

• If the wet floor resulted from leaking pipes, poorly maintained pavement, or unmarked hazards, the hazard may have resulted from the negligence of the landlord, even if you slipped and fell.

As you have seen, liability is a complicated question. Call our office today to discuss your options. Our experienced personal-injury attorneys will work to make sure you receive the absolute maximum for your suffering.

Will skipping a doctor’s visit now hurt my chances of a personal injury settlement later?

From a purely health perspective, we would have to recommend that you get yourself checked out at a doctor. With the rush of adrenaline and nerves you experienced immediately after the accident, your body may have been suppressing pain as part of your ancient survival mechanisms. You may not realize you are injured until you have had a chance to calm down.
Additionally, injuries, even serious ones, can take days to manifest themselves, or may not always have obvious symptoms. For your own health and safety, we would hope you go to a doctor immediately or shortly after a car accident.
On a financial level, the longer you wait to use your insurance or make claims against the other party’s, the longer you may be stuck with unpaid medical bills or lost wages. The longer you wait to treat injuries, the more expensive your treatment could become.
In legal terms, skipping a doctor’s visit until injuries arise does not prevent you from reaching a settlement later on. However, it may make it more difficult.
In Massachusetts, there is a three-year period in which to claim personal injury after an accident. However, the longer you wait after an accident, the easier it is for insurers and, later on, attorneys to argue that your medical expenses are not the result of the accident.
So, call your doctor—and then call us to discuss next steps.

Truly are the best

A huge thank you to Sarah Bower Briones and Tammie Baum!! You truly are the best!! I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in court today. I am extremely pleased and eternally grateful. You two work so well together and are so patient and kind. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Jennifer S.

Are autumn leaves a liability? They can be!

The arrival of fall brings with it the pleasure of watching the leaves turn. Fall is famous in New England because of the many vibrant colors, from bright yellow through to deep violet, that nature treats us to as the days grow shorter.

When leaves turn, though, they inevitably have to fall to the ground. Autumn invariably brings with it wet weather as well. Wet leaves, strewn along the sidewalks and streets, can pose a major risk of slips and falls. While winter’s ice and snow might get most of the attention for slip-and-fall injuries, a fall on wet leaves can result in injuries like a fall from any other cause: fractures, back injuries, head injuries, and sprains.

Under Massachusetts premises liability law, homeowners and commercial property owners are responsible for clearing even “natural” accumulations of leaves and snow.

If you’ve suffered an injury due to a slip and fall on wet leaves the owner of the property may be liable. If you’ve slipped in a commercial parking lot, entrance way, or sidewalk you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering.

Contact our office to learn your rights and if you have a viable slip and fall injury case.

How long do I have in MA to claim injury after a car accident?

The Massachusetts General Code explicitly says there is a three-year period in which to claim personal injury after an accident. However, the law also stipulates that you make your claim “as soon as practicable after the accident occurs from which such claim arises” (Title XIV, Section 90, Chapter 34M)

Depending on who was found to be at fault in the accident, either your insurance or the other party’s is responsible by law for paying legitimate medical expenses, arising directly from the accident, up to the limits of the relevant policy. They must begin payment on these reported expenses within ten days.

However, the insurer can contest the validity of your medical bills. Remember, insurance companies are trying to spend as little as possible on you, no matter how faithfully you make your payments. This is what makes it so important, aside from health reasons, to visit a doctor for treatment and documentation shortly after an accident.

The law allows that insurers can demand an injured party “submit to physical examinations by physicians selected by the insurer” As to how often you might have to make a trip to see doctors hand-selected by the insurance company, the law only specifies “as often as may be reasonably required.” Should you think that their demands are unreasonable, they may use your “noncooperation” as a reason to deny you payment.

If an insurance company is not giving you your due, call us today to discuss options.

Forever grateful for how my case was handled

Sarah represented me in a heart-breaking case involving my family. Sarah was professional and compassionate every step of the way. I am forever grateful for how my case was handled. Our questions were answered quickly no matter what time it was. This is the Law Group that one needs to get the outcome that one is looking for. Well done and many thanks.

Steve G.

The MA state police face ongoing scandals over altering police reports and overtime sheets. Does this give me grounds to contest or question state police reports used against me in court?

The ongoing revelations of misconduct by the State Police are certainly disturbing. If you have not been following the scandal over the past year, here is a summary of what we have learned so far:

-There has been widespread abuse of the overtime system by state troopers at least since 2011. Troopers would claim overtime for shifts they never worked. The practice was known about within the State Police at least since 2011, according to recent reporting in the Boston Globe.

-The overtime abuse was so rampant within Troop E of the State Police that authorities have dissolved it rather than attempt to salvage it.

-Separate from the overtime issue, the former head of payroll at the State Police pleaded guilty early this summer to stealing almost $24,000 from the agency.

-The top two officials at the State Police resigned after whistleblower troopers alleged they had ordered them to alter an OUI incident report because the driver was the daughter of a prominent judge.
It is this last scandal that provides the greatest opening for contesting State Police’s evidence, but since it is a one-time incident involving a high-profile defendant, it may not provide as much help to you as if the State Police altered police reports as often as they altered their overtime sheets.

Our attorneys are committed to pursuing all avenues to fight criminal charges against you or appeal your conviction. Schedule a consultation with us today to discuss the particulars of your situation and start putting together a plan for your legal defense.

Very professional and respectful

I got into a car accident last year and I was recommended Sara and I’m glad I went with her…she was always in contact with me making sure I knew what was going on and she got me a really nice settlement….I will most definitely be going back to her in the event I need her…and I highly recommend her to anyone and everyone super sweet lady very professional and respectful…

Nacho D.

Understanding Your Rights in a Car Accident: Massachusetts Personal Injury Claims Explained

You could be driving down I-495 during rush hour when suddenly a person driving a large SUV whips into your lane and causes you to rear-end him. However, there were multiple witnesses who reported to Massachusetts State Police that the other driver was speeding. Three witnesses reported he was weaving in and out of traffic. Suddenly, what could have been your fault is a clear case of reckless driving, but, thank goodness, people were willing to share what they saw with the police. Now, you’re laid up in a nearby hospital awaiting surgery for multiple hip and leg fractures. This type of car accident is more common on Massachusetts highways than one might think.

How Much Time Do You Have to File a Lawsuit?
A car accident can be devastating, causing you and your dependents to lose your economic stability due to debilitating injuries. In Massachusetts, there is a statute of limitations that limits how long you have to file your claim. Here, as an injured victim, you will typically have three years beginning on the accident date to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party and his or her insurance company. Your lawsuit may be for economic and non-economic damages for bodily injuries, pain, and suffering. If you’re trying to sue a government entity (i.e. a city, county, or state agency) within this state, then your statute of limitations is only two years. In cases where there’s a latent injury, which means you didn’t know about the permanent bodily damage caused by the accident until a later date, there may be a three-year statute of limitations beginning on the date you discovered it.  [Read more…]

Massachusetts Law: Divorce, Custody, and Child Protection

Massachusetts General Law (MGL) 208 covers divorce. This chapter of the laws of the Commonwealth describe everything from the definition of divorce to alimony, child support, and custody issues. Section 31A pertains to visitation and custody in the best interest of a child and covers abuse of parent or child.

The best interest of the child is the primary determining factor in awarding custody.

An abusive parent may not be awarded sole custody, shared legal custody, or shared physical custody. Custody arrangements must be in the best interest of the child. If one of the parents in a divorce or custody dispute has a history of being an abusive parent, then the court may deny custody or visitation or place restrictions.

The court may order supervised visitation for the abusive parent. The abusive parent may be ordered to attend a certified batterer’s treatment program. They are often ordered to refrain from alcohol and other controlled substance during and up to 24 hours before a scheduled visitation. They may also be restricted from overnight visitation. The court may impose any other condition to provide for the safety of the child. [Read more…]

Really impressed with the level of attention

I was really impressed with the level of attention I received from both Sarah Briones and Tammy Baum. They displayed diligence and integrity while handling a very sensitive legal matter. Well done! I will certainly be recommending you to family and friends.

Jay H.

I knew I was in good hands

I called Briones Law Group when I was seeking legal advice. I was unsure of my rights, unsure of the process and scared of what I was about to face. From the first time meeting Sarah and Tammie, I knew I was in good hands. They were professional, understanding and helped me every step of the way. While the legal system doesn’t always make sense or come out in your favor, there is no doubt that having conscientious and efficient representation is an absolute must. Thank you both for your guidance and professionalism. I would highly recommend Briones Law Group.

Sammy R.

Professional and very understanding

I worked with Tammi mostly who is a very kind and understanding individual and helped tremendously with my situation. Both her and Sarah were very professional and very understanding of a difficult situation and worked to resolve the situation. I would highly recommend their services. Will use again if necessary.

Tina

Briones & Morte Merge Law Firms

It is with great pleasure we announce that The Law Office of Stephen G. Morte has merged with the Briones Law Group, also of Marlborough, Massachusetts. The new firm will be a true combination of equals – a joining of two extraordinary firms very similar in size and culture, with practice strengths that are highly complementary and will enable us to provide a new and broader set of services to our clients. Stephen Morte will serve of counsel at the new firm which will be named Briones & Morte.

Both firms are extremely proud of their deep roots in Marlborough, Massachusetts, the quality of their work product, the quality of their advice and counseling, and the quality of their service. Our clients can expect from the new firm the same focus, the same high quality service and the same team that you have come to know.

How Are Child Custody and Visitation Established?

If you are going through a divorce and have children, child custody is arguably the most important matter you will have to deal with during the divorce proceedings. Although custody arrangements can be reviewed and modified until the child turns 18, it is very rare for custody to be changed from one parent to the other after the initial order has been established. This is why it is important to understand how custody and visitation (more often referred to as parenting time) will be determined.

There are two types of custody, legal custody and physical custody. The parents may share both legal and physical custody, share legal custody but give one parent sole physical custody, or have one parent have sole primary and physical custody. As you will see below, even when one parent is granted sole custody, the other parent will still retain rights to the child.

Legal Custody
Legal custody relates solely to the decision-making rights regarding the child. A parent can have legal custody of a child without having physical custody. The parent with legal custody will have the authority to make decisions about the child’s medical, religious, and educational needs. If one parent is awarded sole legal custody, that parent has the right to make major decisions about the child without consulting with the other parent. If the parents share legal custody, they must discuss the matter with the each other before making any major decision.

Physical Custody
Physical custody refers to which parent the child will live with. Typically, one parent is awarded physical custody, while the other receives parenting time. Although joint physical custody is an option, it is more typical to see sole physical custody awarded to one parent. Usually, joint custody will only be awarded if the parents agree to this arrangement. It is very rare to see a judge award joint physical custody if the parents have not agreed to it. [Read more…]

Obtaining An Annulment in Massachusetts

If you are unhappy with your marriage, you can obtain a divorce in Massachusetts for just about any reason. Regardless, there are those times when a marriage should not even be legally recognized. A divorce will end a marriage, but an annulment determines there never was a legal marriage from the start. Moreover, an annulment may have significance for religious or social purposes. If the marriage was not valid from the beginning, it is possible to receive an annulment.

Do you qualify for an annulment?

In Massachusetts, the marriage needs to be void or voidable. There is a popular belief that you can receive an annulment if the marriage was short. Unfortunately, this is not true. There are specific guidelines for granting an annulment, and the duration of the union is not a factor in Massachusetts. In fact, the requirements are so strict that many eventually choose a no-fault divorce, because it is just easier. [Read more…]

Pets and Divorce. Custody or Property?

Do you think worrying about what happens to a dog or cat, when there is a divorce, is silly? Probably not if you are a pet lover.

When a couple decides to divorce, the question of who gets the pets is very common. Pet lovers do not buy an animal, they adopt a family member. However, while the law focuses on the best interests of human children, it sees pets as personal property. Therefore, courts tend to work under this strict interpretation.

Under the law, asking for custody or visitation rights for pets is along the lines of asking for those rights for a television or microwave. Courts will typically start by deciding if the pet belongs to the couple or an individual. If the pet was acquired or shared during a marriage, then it is ordinarily considered marital property. The court then goes through the same steps as it would other property, such as assigning a value.  [Read more…]

Divorce Modification in Massachusetts

Once a divorce is finalized, the documents are filed with the courts. However, life is unpredictable and circumstances can change over time. In Massachusetts, if an earlier court order or judgment no longer suits the parties because circumstances have changed in a significant way since the order or judgment was issued, the court can “modify” the prior order or judgment.

Cases where a modification might be appropriate include those where the children are significantly older than at the time when the last child support order was issued, or where a person ordered to pay alimony has retired and now has a substantially smaller income than at the time he or she was ordered to pay alimony.

Sometimes a party may want to change an order or judgment because there is a legitimate need to do so, and it would be unfair not to allow a change. For example, when there is a typographical mistake in the written judgment, or when the opposing party lied about the value of a significant asset on his or her financial statement, and the lie influenced the judgment of the court.  [Read more…]

What To Do When Your Child is Injured

In Massachusetts, if a child suffers an injury due to faulty playground equipment, a bike accident, a slip and fall accident, or any type of negligence, that child’s parents or legal guardians have the right to pursue a claim on the child’s behalf.

It is often a challenge determining whether your child was injured due to the negligence of another party. Ask yourself:

  • Did your child simply fall, or did he slip on ice or snow that property owners neglected to clear? Property owners must make every effort to ensure that snow and ice are cleared for pedestrian traffic and may be liable for not doing so.
  • Did your child get injured at the pool due to unsafe conditions? Was there a lifeguard on duty who could have prevented the accident? Was the injury due to poor maintenance in the pool area as in uneven cement, missing drain covers or broken ladders?
  • Did your child get injured by a product or toy that could have been defective? Did parts come off easily which your child swallowed or punctured their skin?

Many parents are hesitant about looking into a claim for their child but many times your child’s injuries are at least, in part, due to the negligence of another party. A parent should consider your child’s pain, what he has suffered, and possible repercussions that could result. Also, there are the immediate medical expenses and those incurred in the weeks or months that follow, especially if looking at surgery or therapy as well as the time from work you’ve missed as the parent taking care of your child.

If you suspect that the accident was due to negligence, it is a good idea to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who will evaluate your case and provide you with options. When you meet with your attorney, bring any information you have. If your child saw a doctor or was hospitalized, bring the medical documentation. Bring photos of the injury or accident site and the names and addresses of any witnesses. Bring an accident report, if applicable, or if the injury is due to a defective product or toy, bring that product if possible. Any and all information will help decide if you have a case and how to move forward.

A child, like an adult, has the same reasonable expectation of not getting hurt or seriously injured due to someone else negligence. If your child has been injured, seek the advice of a seasoned attorney in the field of personal injury to assure that your child’s best interests and rights are properly protected.

Court Cases Provides Guidance for Child Custody Issues in Same-Sex Divorces in Massachusetts

Massachusetts was a leader in its early recognition of same-sex marriages. Logic dictates that the Commonwealth will also have more experience with same-sex divorce and family law matters, including child custody and support issues in cases involving the dissolution of a same-sex marriage. Three Massachusetts cases do, in fact, reflect that experience.

In a 2006 same-sex divorce case (A.H. v M.P., 447 Mass. 828), one partner never adopted the child of her partner, although she was well aware of the importance of pursuing a formal adoption. Her former partner was the child’s primary caregiver. The court determined that she had no legal right to parenting time and had no support obligations as a “de facto” parent. The result in this case indicates how critical it is for one partner in a same-sex marriage to adopt the other partner’s biological child if the first partner desires to continue to have a parental relationship with that child in the event of a dissolution of a marriage.

A Massachusetts court had previously considered the rights and responsibilities of a “de facto” parent. In a 1999 case (E.N.O. v. L.L.M., 429 Mass. 824), the court determined that an adult who has no biological relation to a child, but who has participated in the child’s life as a member of his family, may be entitled to parenting time and visitation rights following dissolution of the relationship. The “de facto” parenting standard is thus a function of the facts of each specific case. A same-sex parent who does not actively participate in a child’s upbringing while a marriage is intact will have little opportunity to continue any relationship with that child after the marriage dissolves.  [Read more…]

Is Collaborative Law Right For Your Divorce

The emotional repercussions of the breakdown of a marriage make divorce one of the most complicated of all legal processes. However, complicated court appearances and stressful litigation is not always necessary. For those that are comfortable with settling out of court, collaborative law is an option. There are many experienced attorneys throughout the state of Massachusetts that at  are well-practiced to serve individuals in this regard.

What is Collaborative Law and is it right for you?

Simply put, collaborative law is a non-adversarial a means of settling all aspects relative to dissolving a marriage without any court appearance or intervention. Rather, the parties will take part in several meetings with professionals of varying specialties to come to a mutually agreeable settlement arrangement. Again, it is important to understand that this option is for spouses who are non-adversarial, meaning that the parties are not fighting to “win” an advantage, as further outlined here. If you believe that you and your current spouse are willing to proceed through the negotiation process with respect for one another, and with the understanding that any solution needs to suit all involved as best as possible, including any children of the marriage, then collaborative law could be the answer for you. Each of the individuals involved must also be willing to disclose any financial and personal information to determine the most lawful and proper settlement outcome.

In addition to reducing stress by avoiding court involvement, collaborative law is also more cost-effective. When spouses are not in agreement, excessive time and resources will almost inevitably be used.

If you are ready to take an active role in your divorce settlement and feel that Collaborative Law may be right for you, you may contact our office directly or review information from the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council to find a qualified attorney.

What You Need to Know About Child Custody in Massachusetts

Divorce is described as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. Add children to the mix, coupled with questions of custody, support, and visitation, and emotions and stress can reach a breaking point. Wading through this difficult time calls for the help of a professional such as a divorce & family law attorney who also understands laws specific to Massachusetts.

Before you meet with an attorney, here are few pieces of information about child custody in Massachusetts that you’ll need to know in order to develop questions pertaining to your situation.

Two primary forms of child custody in Massachusetts

Physical custody determines where a child will live during certain periods of time.

Legal custody determines which parent has authority to make major decisions as in the doctor the child sees, the school the child attends, and even in which faith to raise the child.

Sole vs. shared custody
Sole physical custody means a child lives with one parent who is ultimately responsible for the child’s day-to-day supervision. The other parent is allowed reasonable visitation unless the court rules that this would not be in the child’s best interest.

Shared physical custody allows both parents a shared responsibility in raising the child while the child resides equally with both.

Sole legal custody gives one parent all rights and responsibilities to make major decisions in the child’s life. [Read more…]

Ways to Discover Hidden Assets During a Divorce

Despite complications to the marriage, most people enter the divorce process believing their soon to be ex-spouse is an honest person. However, this is not always the situation. The fact is, dishonesty is a common reason for seeking a divorce. Regardless, even if you have no reason to suspect your former partner is a liar, there is still good cause to be curious and concerned about their finances heading into a divorce.

Once a divorce begins, many people will do whatever it takes to conceal and hold on to what they believe is their money. Moreover, some will even create secret accounts, or perform other financial actions, during the course of the whole marriage. Discovering these hidden assets, during a divorce, is the only way to ensure you receive a fair settlement.

You should never rely entirely on your spouse’s financial affidavit. The good news is an experienced divorce attorney has many tools at their disposal often including a forensic accountant or other investigators and can uncover most everything during the discovery process.

In today’s world, many couples have very complicated and difficult to understand financial portfolios that may include retirement plans, stocks, vacation properties, and more. Regardless, deception is often easily discoverable. The hiding places are predictable. These are some of the more common:

1. Family and Friends – Your ex-spouse may conspire with family or good friends. This is often done by making payments for imaginary items or services, then getting reimbursed after the divorce. An experienced attorney will scrutinize payments made by both personal and business accounts.

2. Fake Employees – Having a fake employee on the payroll is a common technique for concealing the money generated by a business. While your ex-spouse may think they are being slick, an audit of their payroll will uncover the truth.

3. Unreported Income – Does your ex-spouse work in a cash business? Some people believe they can keep their true income hidden by excluding revenue from their financial statements. However, lifestyle costs often reveal the truth.

4. Collectibles – One way to hide money is investing in antiques and artwork, or even comic books and baseball cards. These items are often bought over the course of the marriage, and then the value is under-reported during the divorce.

5. Delayed Compensation – Your ex-spouse’s stock options, raises, and bonuses are all included in a divorce. However, if your ex-spouse has a friendly boss, they can conspire to delay promotions or payments of bonuses.

6. Custodial Accounts – One of the most devious methods of hiding money is setting up a custodial account in the name of one of their children. While this is hiding assets from the court, they are basically gifting the assets to their child. This can mean, if they eventually take the money back, they are stealing.

[Read more…]

Consequences of Devastating Head Injuries

50,000 people lose their lives, 280,000 are people hospitalized and 2.2 million people are seen in emergency rooms: these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show the impact of head injuries in the United States in a single year. The magnitude of these statistics is worthy of discussion; particularly since a traumatic head injury can be the result of car accidents, slip and fall accidents and assaults.

Head Injuries Pose Potential for Long-Term Consequences
While a head injury can have immediate repercussions for victims including headaches, temporary memory loss and feelings of sleepiness, the long-term consequences should not be ignored. Even those victims who suffer very mild symptoms of a head injury after a car accident need to use caution; repeat head trauma has been associated with higher incidence of Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. Those with severe head injuries immediately after an accident can suffer from: [Read more…]

What to Do if You Aren’t Getting Visitation with Your Child

If you are the non-custodial parent, not being able to spend time with your child on a daily basis can be painful. Regular visitation should help, but if the other parent is not cooperative or if you have not been granted visitation, you could be wondering what steps you need to take in order to spend more time with your child. An attorney who is experienced in Massachusetts divorce and family law can help.

The next steps depend on your situation. If you have not been granted visitation with your children, then you and your attorney will need to go to court to modify the child custody order that is currently in place, or you may need to petition to have a child custody order made if there isn’t one. These are both things that a family law attorney can help you with.

On the other hand, if a judge has ordered that you are supposed to get visitation with your child but the custodial parent is not cooperating, you will need to petition the courts to ensure that the child custody order is followed. It can be challenging to deal with a custodial parent who is not willing to budge, but it is important to follow the proper legal procedure in order to obtain your desired outcome.

If you want to see your kids, you should be able to, even as the non-custodial parent. Whether you need help with child custody or other aspects of your divorce, we can help. Please call our office to schedule a consultation with our family law attorneys.

Divorce and The Best Interests of the Child

When you’re going through the divorce process and managing the child support and custody issues, you’ll hear the term “best interests of the child.” Generally, the court will consider the new family lifestyle after a divorce and where the court feels the child will best be able to adapt to the new changes. It is possible for you and your spouse to ease into your new family dynamic in order to make the transition easier on your child.

Amicable Relationship

In order for you and your spouse to best help your child through the divorce process, they should maintain an amicable relationship. While that may not be easy, especially at first, this is beneficial in helping your child’s transition into this new way of life. It’s best to avoid contentious debates about visitation, child support, visitation and other child-rearing issues. [Read more…]

Employment Law, Military Service, and Your Rights

Today’s military relies more and more on reservists and those considered to be part-time soldiers. While these individuals are ready, willing and able to serve their country when called, they know that time away serving their Country means time away from their regular employment. This is why there are laws that protect those called to active duty.

Re-Employment Rights

No doubt, the biggest concern to those called away is getting their job back when they return. An employee is considered to be on an unpaid leave of absence when he or she is called to active military duty. This means that they have the right to be re-employed once they return, as mandated by federal law. They are also entitled to the same benefits and salary.

Those that have been called away to serve must reapply for their job, depending on how long the reservist has been away. The service member has five years to retain his re-employment rights.

If the employee has been absent for 30 days or less, he can continue his health care coverage at the same cost during the time of his service. If he serves more than 30 days, he obtains a plan through the health plan offered by the military. [Read more…]

What Can Be Modified in Your Massachusetts Divorce Agreement

Having the provisions of a divorce agreement modified under Massachusetts law is possible, based on how the separation agreement was written and the circumstances bringing about the request for a modification. Before bringing your modification request to the court, you need to consult with an experienced divorce attorney.

The first thing to realize is that there must be a material change in circumstances to request a modification, such as an employment change, a significant change of residence, or change in income. These changes can affect custody agreements and spousal and child support.

When drafting a separation agreement, there are two types of provisions addressed in the agreement: surviving and merging. Merging provisions are open to modification. Merging provisions are generally child specific issues like custody arrangements, support, and health insurance. Sometimes alimony can be a merging provision. Surviving provisions are generally not open to modification. An example of surviving provision is the division of property. [Read more…]

Criminal Law Cases

With a background in criminal law and having served as an Assistant District Attorney, Attorney Morte has represented numerous clients who have been charged with criminal offenses.

A small sample of cases handled successfully by Attorney Morte have included:

  • Operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • General motor vehicle offenses including negligence, operating after suspension or other similar charges
  • Gun charges
  • Sexual assault charges
  • Registry of Motor Vehicle issues and including loss of license
  • Texting/Pornography related charges