Fatal Storefront Collision Highlights Risks in Massachusetts

A Newton man is standing trial for crashing into the front of a Newton restaurant in 2016, in an incident that killed two people and injured several others.

Such crashes are a hidden risk at strip malls, restaurants, bars, and other neighborhood shops throughout the Commonwealth. In fact, they are surprisingly common, and among the leading causes of death at business locations.

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Investigators say the driver was speeding when he plowed into the front of the Sweet Tomatoes restaurant in March 2016. The defendant’s attorney told jurors during opening statements that the driver suffered from multiple sclerosis and was having a medical emergency when he accidentally lost control of the vehicle, according to Boston 25News.

The driver has been charged with two counts of motor vehicle homicide. The first day of testimony in Middlesex Superior Court included a friend who testified the 57-year-old driver hurriedly ended a phone call with him in the moments before the crash.

“It was business as usual; the employees were going about their business, they were taking orders, they were serving their customers,” prosecutor Chris Tarrant told the jury, according to media reports. “They were waiting for food when, without warning, a silver SUV came crashing through the building that is Sweet Tomatoes at an extremely high rate of speed.”

Boston car accident lawyer know a premises liability claim may also be made in many such cases. Consulting a Massachusetts law firm experienced in handling collision claims involving businesses, property owners and other liable third parties will offer the best chance for obtaining a judgment for damages.

Boston Storefront Collision Risks

Nationally, the Storefront Safety Council reports storefront crashes occur 60 times a day. Such collisions kill more than 500 people each year and injure another 4,000.

Operator or pedal error is blamed in more than half of all instances. Intoxicated drivers are blamed for nearly 1 in 5 storefront crashes. Medical emergencies are blamed for fewer than 10 percent. These crashes most often occur at retail store locations or other commercial locations. About 20 percent occur at restaurants. More than half of at-fault drivers blamed for such collisions are over the age of 50.

Older urban centers are particularly susceptible, both because of traffic and crowd congestion and the proximity of patrons to curbside traffic.

While a claim may be made against an at-fault driver, a third-party negligence claim may also be appropriate in cases where a business or property owner failed to exercise due care. Parking lot design, elevated entrances fronted by concrete sidewalks, and the presence of parking lot bollards, may all reduce the risk of an out-of-control driver penetrating a storefront.

Negligence is defined as the failure to exercise the degree of care of an ordinary, reasonable and product person or corporation would under similar circumstances. Victims in such cases must prove a defendant’s breach of duty resulted in a victim’s compensable damages. Unlike a criminal trial, where the threshold is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, civil plaintiffs must only prove a case by preponderance of the evidence. While a criminal conviction can be used as evidence of negligence, a conviction is not civilly determinative and no criminal conviction need occur in order to seek civil damages.

Standards of Reasonable Care and Forseeability

Among the keys to a corporation’s legal duty is foreseeability. If it is reasonably foreseeable that an act or omission would cause some form of harm, the courts have typically found duty of care to be present.

Under premises liability laws of Massachusetts, landowners or tenants owe a reasonable duty of care to people who enter the property legally, though there can be cases where such a duty does not apply when a danger is open and obvious (such as flooding, etc.) Plaintiff must show there was a defect on the premises that existed for such a time that the defendant either knew about it or should have known about it through the exercise of reasonable care.

There are many laws and regulations that set minimum standards by which individuals and businesses must conform their conduct.  These can be used in negligence cases to help define the duty that is owed. Violation of a safety statute, zoning ordinance or building code, for example, could lead to a negligence finding.

Additionally, a driver who suffers a medical emergency and causes a collision is not necessarily absolved from liability.

In the decision of Carroll v. Bouley, 156 N.E.2d 687 (Mass. 1959), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court established the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense when justices ruled a driver having a sudden and unforeseeable physical seizure cannot be deemed negligent for failure to maintain control of a vehicle. Since then, course have seemed to use the term “seizure” to include other medical conditions that render a driver unconscious, such as a heat attack or coronary occlusion.

However, whether a medical emergency was “foreseeable” in this case, or any other case, is a point an experienced injury lawyer will carefully examine. If, for example, a seizure was caused by failure to take medication, or if a driver’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he should not have been on the road, he may still be found negligent for causing a crash, as knowingly driving with a serious medical condition may make causing a collision a foreseeable event.

Lastly, the law makes special allowances for children under the doctrine of attractive nuisance. While trespassers do not generally enjoy the civil protections afforded lawful guests, the law makes an exception for children as it recognizes a child may be lured into danger by what the law terms an “attractive nuisance.” Thus, a child who sneaks onto a property to go swimming at an unsecured swimming pool, for example, may enjoy legal protection not generally offered to someone on a property without permission. Each case is unique and early consultation with a Boston injury law firm experienced in premises liability claims will best protect your legal rights.

If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.