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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.