By: Karen Piso Nadeau, Esquire
For some parents in Massachusetts, the massive migration of college kids home for summer started last month with laundry bags full of dirty clothes and taking over our laundry space. Others had high school graduations in towns like Cambridge, Massachusetts with high school seniors ready to kick off summer early. Now the rest of the school aged children are out of school for the summer, from preschool to kindergarten to elementary school and middle school to high school. Different childhood milestones mean different challenges and worries for us parents.
No matter what age group, there are all types of fears and concern for our children’s well-being. The summer is certainly a time cherished to recharge, relax, vacation and have some fun. At the same time, the summer months pose some unique risks and dangers for our children and families. So many of the sad stories and tragedies that we see during the summer months are avoidable and preventable. Nadeau Harkavy LLC has blogged previously about summer safety tips. This summer, I have decided to focus on some real-life experiences that are teachable moments for us and our kids. These safety tips help remind us to live our summer best lives while at the same time keeping us and others around us happy, healthy, and secure.
Here are some of my favorites:
- If there are six college kids getting into a vehicle with only 5 seatbelts, they can’t all be safely bucked up.
You don’t need a math degree (although I do have one, as I remind my kids) to figure out at least one college boy is not buckling up for safety. Then I wonder how many others simply don’t use the seatbelt, as I yell out the front door to buckle up. Take two cars to the movies or two ride share services so everyone has a seatbelt. Every single one of you- buckle up please. It is the law. It saves lives. It prevents serious personal injury.
I have represented one too many high school or college age kids who flew through the windshield when the vehicle they were in collided with another vehicle or into a tree or guardrail. One high school graduate had an athletic scholarship to college in the fall. He never made it there. Instead, he spent months in a hospital and rehabilitation for a brain injury with permanent brain damage. If only he could go back and put that seatbelt on that night.
This is a choice that we make every time we enter a vehicle. BUCKLE UP BEFORE THE CAR IS IN DRIVE. Don’t think that it is safe to ride in your neighborhood or side street without a seatbelt. Accidents can happen anywhere at any time. Buckle up before the car moves.
- Alcohol consumption and operating a motor vehicle are a fatal combination.
I am very happy when I see safe practices with alcohol consumption surrounding our kids. The consensus by the parents that I talk to seems to be that our youth adhere to no drinking and driving. There is in place a designated sober and non-drinking person for the evening who is responsible for driving friends that consume alcohol home. Some opt for ride shares at times. Others rely upon older or younger siblings or parents for rides.
However, we hear about drunk driving accidents and fatalities on the news all the time. No drinking and driving. There is no room for error. It is illegal and a deadly combination. Don’t get behind the wheel if you drink alcohol. Get a ride. Call someone for a ride. Have a sober driver.
- Be smart if you are in an accident to make sure the right things are done.
If you are in a car accident in Massachusetts, you need to protect yourself. The number one concern is your physical well-being. If you are injured, you need to prioritize dealing with getting medical attention and addressing your injuries first. If you are ok, then you need to think smart at the scene of the accident. First, make sure you are safe and make sure your vehicle is in park and shut off before exiting the vehicle. It seems like commonsense, but in the moment, leaving your car in drive and exiting the vehicle is something that happens, maybe more often with newer drivers. You don’t want to cause more unintended damage.
Next, call the police to the scene to do their job documenting the accident and people involved. Be sure to exchange information with the other driver and get their name, address, plate number and insurance information. Take pictures with your cell phone, if it is safe, of the accident scene, the vehicles, the plate of the other vehicle. Get witnesses’ names and phone numbers at the scene. The information at the scene may be very beneficial to you if the insurance company tries to blame you. Be aware that the police do not necessarily get all the witness information and vehicle information you need so it is best to not rely on the police for all the information. In a recent case, our client was smart enough to get a picture of the vehicle that collided with him while he was on his bicycle. The front license plate was clear in the picture. This was crucial to identifying and holding the hit and run driver responsible. The police were at the scene but did not have any of this information. If he relied on police, my client would not have any of the needed information to pursue a case against the hit and run driver’s insurance. He also got a witness’ phone number that the police never secured.
- Never leave the scene of an accident without first exchanging information with the other driver or pedestrian.
Colliding with another vehicle, a pedestrian, or bicycle and then fleeing the scene is illegal. Sometimes fear takes over good judgment and driving away from a crash seems like the thing to do in the moment. Leaving the scene of an accident not only could lead to criminal charges but also may leave an injured victim left behind in danger and without insurance coverage for the loss suffered.
Leaving the scene of personal injury or death is no joke. Several cases come to mind during my legal career involving a young woman, a teenage boy and young man who in the moments after they struck a pedestrian made the choice to flee the scene. Some have tried to destroy evidence by cleaning their vehicles or trying to get the vehicle damage repaired caused by the collision with a human being. In all three cases that come to mind, the drivers that fled the scenes of deadly crashes were identified by police through intense investigations. This was before cell phones and before the widespread use of video cameras. All three drivers were found, criminally prosecuted, and did prison time for leaving the scene. Today, with cell phones and cameras at our fingertips and surveillance cameras all over the streets, the odds are pretty favorable that a driver who hits and runs will be discovered and have to pay the price of running away from the scene of an accident.
Stay at the scene and exchange information with the other driver.
- Do not let your guard down around water.
The summer has just begun, and we have already seen several deaths from drownings whether it be a swimming pool, lake, or ocean. Always keep an eye on children around water. Use approved flotation devices. Don’t let your children swim alone and always be sure they have a buddy with them when they are in the water. Make sure your child is in a safe environment under the watchful eye of a trusted adult or caregiver if you leave your child in a place where water is nearby. These tragedies are preventable. Make sure a child does not have access to water such as an open door to a pool or backyard fence that leads to water. Representing a family of a child who has drowned is one of the most heartbreaking experiences I have encountered as a personal injury lawyer. To know the child’s death was preventable due to inattention or careless behavior hurts deeply.
Local news coverage has spotlighted the fact that lifeguards are in high demand and many pools and beaches do not have enough lifeguards this summer. Parents are worried because having another set of eyes on our children with lifeguards is an added layer of protection for our kids. Many parents fear that there may be more tragedies and drownings this summer with fewer lifeguards on watch.
Pay close attention to your surroundings. Wear life jackets on a boat. Only swim in designated areas. Quarries are inherently dangerous, and teens should avoid them as we already had a first teenage death in a quarry in Gloucester, MA. Never enter water if intoxicated. Be especially careful during parties around pools. Do not let your guard down around water.
- Carefully choose with whom and where you entrust your children when you are away from them.
When school is out for summer, daycare and childcare are top priorities for working parents. I have handled several daycare cases involving children harmed at daycare due to careless practices and lack of appropriate supervision. Discovering your child has been injured while in someone else’s care who you trusted is devastating as a parent. Often, the daycare is more concerned about protecting the daycare workers and daycare facility’s reputation than your child and family’s needs. I have seen the blame game and twisting the truth and outright lies when parents have questioned how their child could possibly be harmed at the very place that has the number one responsibility and job of keeping children safe that are under their care. This is what they get paid to do: keep our children safe.
Take the time to research the people and places that you are considering for childcare. We all want safe and nurturing environments for our children. At the same time, there is a lot of stress associated with finding the right care while we fulfill our job responsibilities. Nothing is more important than the safety of our children.
- Texting when you are driving or crossing the street causes serious injuries.
There are a lot of statistics about our teens and young men and women engaging in risky behavior. There are also a lot of statistics about newer drivers’ decreased reaction response and increase risk of accidents. Cell phone use and less experienced drivers are a bad combination. Yet, our children continue to check cell phones and text while driving. They claim it is only for a second or they are driving slowly, or they are on a side street, or they are stopped in traffic. I have heard all these reasons to justify the risky and unlawful behavior.
Walking across streets or through parking lots while looking at a cell phone is also a common practice. This is dangerous as we lose sight of our surroundings. Remind our teens and 20-year old’s that using a cell phone while behind the wheel is dangerous and illegal. Don’t do it. Pull over to a safe parking location, place your vehicle in park, and stop your vehicle before using your cell phone. Wait to check your cell phone if you are walking across a street or through a parking lot.
Cell phone use is a distraction while driving increasing the likelihood of a collision. Other things that can distract while driving are drinking coffee or eating food or playing with the radio. Reminding our young drivers and ourselves to minimize all distractions while driving or walking will help keep us safe this summer.
- Traffic signals are meant to be obeyed.
Rolling through stop signs is becoming more and more common. Not only will local police happily give a ticket for rolling through a neighborhood stop sign, but we handle a lot of serious injury cases involving stop signs and failure to stop or proceed when it is safe to do so. Use the crosswalks and walk signals when walking across a street. Pedestrians have their own legal obligations to use caution when crossing a street. Traffic lights are meant for safe driving. Risky behavior of anticipating a light turning green and rolling forward or running a red light because you don’t think there is any traffic are decisions that could devastate a family involved in an intersection collision. Speeding can also lead to catastrophic accidents as well as changing lanes on a highway without using your blinker or without checking that it is clear or failure to keep a safe distance behind another vehicle on a highway. High speed highway accidents are often violent impacts with airbags deployed and vehicles totaled beyond repair. Accidents with trucks that are much heavier and larger than our vehicles on highways also lead to tragic outcomes. Our newer drivers need to take special care and responsibility on our highways and need to be reminded about this.
Pay attention to traffic controls and follow the rules of the road for a safe summer and beyond.
9. Backing up without looking Is dangerous.
Recently a teenage driver stated to me that she backed into a vehicle in a parking lot and sincerely believed the other vehicle was at fault. The argument was that the other vehicle was traveling too fast, and she could not prevent colliding with it. Parking lot accidents are common occurrences. Often, they are at low speed with less damage involved. However, sometimes these parking lot accidents cause serious harm to an individual or a lot of damage to the vehicles involved. Backing up without looking into a human being is never a good thing. Yet, we represent a lot of victims who are run over in parking lot accidents. One case involved an elderly driver who backed up into my client who was pushing a shopping cart and he suffered serious leg injures requiring surgery and a lot of physical therapy.
I realize it is not unusual to think that the other car driving past you when you are backing up is at fault. Sometimes there is some blame with that driver. But in most parking lot cases, the driver backing out of a parking space is deemed the at fault responsible party. It is not often easy to see when you are backing up, and other vehicles may block your line of vision. The law in Massachusetts is clear: you can’t drive blind. So, we need to be reminded to take the time to look behind us over our shoulders on both sides and make sure it is safe to proceed and to do it slowly. Relying on cameras is not okay. We need to physically turn our head left and right and look behind us, sometimes several times.
- Do not let your guard own around dogs.
Dogs seem to be everywhere these days and the pandemic with us staying at home ignited a desire to bring more dogs into our homes. Even the commercials on tv have a dog overload. During the pandemic, we saw an uptick in our personal injury practice with dog attacks and people, young and old, suffering serious injuries from dog bites. Some cases involved bicyclists chased by dogs or a runner bitten by a dog as she passed the dog jogging or a dog attack in a dog park. A lot of cases have involved dogs under the care of dog walkers. Getting bitten by a dog is the last thing any of our clients expected to encounter when they went out to live their life that day.
There are things we can do to minimize the risk of a dog attack. As to dog owners, we need to take responsibility for our dogs. In Massachusetts, a dog owner or keeper is strictly liable for any damages caused by their dog. This means if your dog hurts someone, you are responsible for the damage. Usually, your homeowner’s insurance covers this. Dogs need to be on a leash. Dogs need to be under the watchful eye of their owners.
Our children must be carefully watched around dogs. We can teach our kids some safe practices around dogs such as not putting their face in the dog’s face to greet the dog. We handle a lot of personal injury cases involving children bitten by dogs. One case involved an unleashed dog that chased a young boy and attacked him. He suffered dog bites to his head requiring surgery, and his mother was bitten on her arm with permanent scars when she tried to remove the dog’s mouth from her son’s head. In another case, a young boy was running through a sprinkler when an unleashed dog grabbed his leg and tore it apart. Yet another case involves a beautiful young girl who saw a dog on a checkout counter of a local town shop and was reassured by the owner that the dog was ok and good with children when the parent told his daughter to be careful. The little girl was eye level with the dog and went to pet the dog when the dog snapped and bit the girl on the face causing a terrible facial scar.
Avoiding areas where dogs may be unleashed, teaching our children to be cautious around dogs and keeping a watchful eye around dogs will decrease the risk of being harmed by a dog. Before touching or petting someone’s dog, adults and children must always ask permission. Dogs instinctively chase you when you run. Don’t have children run where dogs may be unleashed or roam. If a dog comes near, it is best not to run. Instead, experts say it is best to stand still and quietly with your hands by your side and to avoid eye contact with a dog.
Keeping our children safe and happy this summer means taking some time to consider easy things we can do to increase safer environments for our kids and decrease risky behavior. Here’s to a safe and happy summer for all!
At Nadeau Harkavy LLC, we have over 50 years combined experience representing injured people and their families when they have been involved in an accident. We have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients over the years to help them get on with their lives after suffering the consequences of a serious accident. We make sure everything is done to protect your interests while you and your family concentrate on getting better. We handle all types of accident cases including wrongful death, car accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, trip and fall, slip and fall, dog bite, construction site, and catastrophic injury accidents. If you or a loved one has been harmed as a result of another’s wrongdoing, call us today for a free consultation about your legal rights at 617-674-7640.