By: Karen Piso Nadeau, Esquire
On November 21, 2022, a man was killed, and nineteen other people were injured when an SUV went off the designated roadway of a parking plaza and collided into the store front of an Apple Store in Hingham, MA. The Toyota 4Runner collided into the store’s front glass. The driver had an out of state drunk driving charge on his record according to CBS Boston News I-Team. Massachusetts State Police are investigating, and a reconstruction analysis will be performed that will shed light on how this unthinkable accident occurred by tracing the actions of the driver, the travel of the vehicle and the accident events. Accident reconstructionists combine a lot of information to determine what happened.
The driver of the SUV that crashed into the Apple Store front was arrested and plead not guilty at Hingham District Court according to the Boston Globe. He told police that his foot was stuck on the accelerator. He was charged with reckless homicide by motor vehicle according to Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz’s office. The driver claims that he tried to brake with his left foot but could not stop. A breath test that the driver voluntarily took registered zero blood alcohol. According to police, the driver had no medical conditions impairing his ability to drive and there were no known mechanical issues. The driver was looking for an eyeglass store and did not know the plaza well. He was only there once before. The Judge ordered the driver not to operate a motor vehicle for the duration of the case.
The crash caused portions of the Apple Store’s rear wall to collapse, and there was a large hole to the right of the front entrance. The crash killed a sixty-five-year-old male. The man killed was a professional on site for recent construction at the store and was moving a barrier near a window with a co-worker according to a witness. Multiple people suffered life threatening injuries and limb threatening injuries according to doctors at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, MA. Some victims were pinned between the wall and SUV. Injuries include serious head trauma, mangled limbs, and lower extremity trauma. These victims will have a long road to recovery according to the doctors treating them.
Dr. Jason Tracy, chair of emergency medicine at South Shore Hospital, said the hospital received 17 patients in 47 minutes. Witnesses said that it sounded like an explosion when the SUV slammed into the glass store front of the Apple Store.
What Are Accident Reconstructionists and How Can They Explain What Happened in the Hingham Collison?
Accident reconstructionists are specialists who have training and experience in analyzing accident scenes and other data to determine what caused a vehicle to crash. The vehicle may have crashed with another vehicle or a pedestrian, or a motorcycle, or an object such as a fence, tree, or guardrail. In recent history, the object seems to be more and more a building whether it be someone’s home, a restaurant, or as is the case in Hingham, a store front where customers are invited to shop. Accident reconstruction is simply the study of factors that help determine the cause of an accident. The accident reconstructionist investigates and analyzes various things that lead to a collision. The goal is usually to show who is responsible or at fault for the accident. In the Hingham storefront crash, there seems to be little doubt that the driver is at fault. But could someone else also be responsible for this nightmare experienced by so many families right before the Thanksgiving holiday?
Accident reconstructionists are often state troopers who have special training in accident reconstruction whereby they use scientific methods in their analysis. They inspect the accident scene, the vehicles involved and the property damage to the vehicles and injuries to the victims. They examine the debris left behind from the accident. They also look at factors such as traffic conditions, the weather and road conditions. They review witness accounts as well as any video surveillance that may have captured the collision. They also look to the event data recorder also known as the black box that records the vehicle speed before and during the impact as well as when airbags deploy, when the brakes were used, and the acceleration of the vehicle.
The Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction defines reconstruction as: “a systematic process of evaluating the evidence associated with a particular collision sequence and applying accepted physical principles in order to ascertain how the collision occurred.”
As to the Hingham collision nightmare, it comes down to: what happened and why?
There is no doubt the SUV’s black box will be reviewed for data to determine how fast the vehicle was traveling and if the brakes were used prior to the crash into the store front glass. Video surveillance will also be reviewed in the area from cameras in the shopping area. Witnesses have stated that the SUV was speeding into the store and there were no protective barriers in the front of the Apple Store.
Who is Responsible for the Lack of Protective Barriers in Front of Hingham’s Apple Store that Would Have Likely Avoided the Suffering of So Many People and their Families?
In December 2019, I wrote and posted a blog addressing who is responsible for personal injury caused by cars crashing into buildings in Massachusetts. I addressed the need for owners of shopping plazas, restaurants, and retail stores to provide appropriate protection and safety measures for customers and pedestrians. I also summarized 8 crashes into buildings that occurred in 2019 in Massachusetts. In conclusion, the failure of businesses and property owners to provide the appropriate placement of barriers to protect buildings may expose these businesses and property owners to liability.
The lack of protective barriers is significant in this horrific crash devastating so many families with a blink of an eye. Why weren’t these barriers there prior to this accident? Why were they installed within days of this collision that was highly publicized on the local news and social media outlets- An Apple Store in a Hingham shopping plaza with its store front glass shattered by an SUV killing one and seriously injuring another nineteen shoppers?
Many retailers install bollards on the edge of the sidewalks to protect its shoppers and pedestrians from tragedies like this. These bollards are structures made of usually concrete or steel and the sole purpose is to stop a car, like the SUV that collided into the Hingham Apple Store. Bollards can save lives. Yet, there is no law in Massachusetts requiring them despite efforts to enact law that requires them. Legislation to require these concrete or steel structures to keep people safe stalled. From the parking lot of Derby Street Shops Plaza in front of Barnes & Noble Bookstore, it is almost a straight shot to the front of the Apple Store glass windows. Yet, there were no protective barriers to protect the shoppers and pedestrians, such as our kids home from college shopping with friends, our teenagers visiting the Apple Store with dreams of holiday gifts, our parents, other family members, friends, and colleagues. The scary part is the fact that this could have been any of us living this unthinkable nightmare during the holiday season. This tragedy has brought to light the statewide efforts in Massachusetts to require physical barriers in front of some retail structures and businesses. Despite these efforts, the law has not passed. Data of crashes into buildings is tracked by Storefront Safety Council, a national advocacy group launched about a decade ago. The goal of this safety council is to reduce the number of vehicles into building crashes. These are preventable accidents and thousands have died and even more injured according to this organization.
Another Similar Tragedy More Than a decade Ago in Chicopee, Massachusetts
The Hingham, Massachusetts crash into the Apple Store just before Thanksgiving 2022, reminds us of a similar crash a little more than a decade ago. The November 28, 2010, Chicopee, Massachusetts incident involves 2 city residents who stopped at a local Cumberland Farms located on a corner. A driver of an SUV collided into the store. Again, there were no barriers between the parking lot and store. A woman was killed, and a store employee was injured. In the Chicopee, Massachusetts crash, the driver had a stroke. When there is a sudden medical emergency such as a stroke with no prior incidents, the law generally finds no negligence with the driver who had the unforeseen medical condition that causes the accident. If the driver is not responsible and not at fault, then the question was, who then can be held liable for this tragedy?
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against Cumberland Farms claiming the company failed to protect shoppers. There were 500 similar collisions over a 10-year span. A Hampden County Superior Court jury in Massachusetts awarded more than 32 million dollars in damages which was reduced to 20 million by a judge. In 2018, a Massachusetts Appellate Court upheld the ruling. This case signals that businesses and property owners need to step it up when it comes to the safety of their customers who are on their property spending a lot of money at their stores. It does not take much energy or money to do the right thing and have a safe environment for people who are on their property.
Barriers in Place Would Have Likely Prevented This Horrific Accident
In March 2021, a bill was sent to the Massachusetts House Committee that would require new construction projects to include safety barriers placed between a parking space on one side and sidewalks and buildings on the other. A former state representative from Holliston, Massachusetts, Carolyn Dykema, dedicated significant efforts to having this bill passed. The bill stated that the barriers could be a low retaining wall, a landscape planter, a bollard, or other design as long as it could stop a moving vehicle leaving the roadway.
Within days of this horrific accident on Thanksgiving week in Hingham, Massachusetts, barriers were installed in front of the Apple Store. These barriers are a little too late for those victims and their families who are left to mourn the loss of a loved one and trying to pick up the pieces and recover from serious injuries. Those injured will be navigating their medical recovery, seeing medical specialists, undergoing intense rehabilitation for their injuries, and dealing with loss of income due to their injuries that prevent them from working. They will no doubt experience tremendous pain and suffering during the holiday season and beyond. What should be a joyous holiday season filled with laughter, holiday gatherings and good times will be filled with hospital stays and doctor’s appointments and one family planning a funeral. To think that all of this could have been avoided if barriers were in place at the time this driver drove his SUV off the road that day in Hingham.
Who Should be Held Accountable for this Tragedy and Compensate these Victims and their Families?
It is easy to blame the driver of the SUV who went off the road and crashed into the Apple Store in Hingham, Massachusetts. Some facts have already emerged that a personal injury lawyer like me would use to blame this driver for the accident. Some arguments are: he was not paying attention; he was too busy looking for an eyeglass shop instead of paying attention to the roadway; he was driving at an excessive rate of speed for the shopping area; he failed to maintain control of his vehicle. His cell phone records and cell phone may also shed light on whether he was using his cell phone at the time of this loss and distracting him. Additionally, video surveillance has likely been secured by police from the shopping plaza that may show reckless driving. There are also witness observations. As detailed previously, the accident reconstruction will draw conclusions about the actions of the driver and any wrongdoing that day.
One major obstacle to recovering money against this driver may be minimum insurance policy limits. In Massachusetts, a vehicle owner is required to only have 20/40 bodily injury limits to cover any negligent driving of their vehicle. Many vehicle owners have a lot more coverage, but some choose to pay as little as possible for insurance and go with the bare minimal. This means that the car insurance may be only a $20,000.00 limit per individual and only $40,000.00 pay out for the entire accident. In this Hingham, Massachusetts nightmare, this minimal insurance would do close to nothing to compensate these victims for the harm caused to them. The next thing we look at as personal injury attorneys is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. The victim’s own auto insurance may provide an additional layer of insurance coverage. For example, I had a client who had 1 million dollars in underinsurance coverage on his own auto insurance. The car that struck him had very little insurance coverage. We were able to get him 1 million dollars in compensation because he had the extra layer of coverage on his own auto insurance policy. Unfortunately, my experience is that many people fail to have this extra layer of protection on their own auto policies. This can be financially devastating in some accident cases where the at fault party has little coverage and no assets.
Putting aside the driver and his negligence, the Apple Store and the owners of the shopping plaza may also share responsibility for the harm caused at the Hingham Apple Store that day. An aggressive and intensive investigation will shed light on their culpability for this nightmare. Yes, they installed the barriers within days of this tragedy. But the burning question is- why weren’t these barriers in place before this accident? Wasn’t it reasonably foreseeable that shoppers and pedestrians were at risk of serious injury if a vehicle veered off the road and into the Apple Store’s glass storefront? It would have taken little effort and cost much less than the cost to these families who are left grieving and trying to pick up the pieces of anyone’s worst nightmare during the holiday season.
We are all running crazy and juggling a million things in our lives. When a loved one leaves your home saying they are going shopping, you say goodbye and maybe like me say, “be safe; wear your seatbelt; no cell phone please driving.” You don’t think about tragedies like this that forever change a life and a family. The sad truth is: the Hingham accident harming so many people was avoidable. It did not take much to protect customers and pedestrians as evidenced by how quickly those barriers were installed in front of the Apple Store within days of this nightmare. Holding those accountable for not keeping their stores and property safe is what we do as personal injury lawyers. We can’t give the family their life back minutes before that SUV went off the road and crashed into that store front. That is what every client of mine has asked for but knows they can’t ever get back- the life they lived before the accident. That is all that they really want. What I can do for those suffering such a catastrophic life change is pursue justice in the form of compensation, meaning money to get back on track and begin a new chapter of their lives with some comfort and peace of mind.
Keep in mind that the businesses and property owners almost always do everything they can from day one to avoid being held accountable. Insurance companies are usually involved and take charge of the investigation for the store owners like the Apple Store and property owners of places like the Hingham Derby Street Shops. Their goal is to avoid paying the victims and their families and to reduce any insurance payments that they make. They are hard at work trying to avoid being held accountable. The victims and their families need a personal injury lawyer to do battle for them and even the playing field. That is what I do and have done every day for over 25 years now. My partner Leslie Harkavy and I have been working together as a team taking on these personal injury cases and making the insurance company pay for the harm caused by the people, businesses, and entities that they insure.
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 those like the Hingham Apple Store crash as well as wrongful death, brain injury, car accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, trip and fall, slip and fall, dog bite, construction site, and catastrophic injury accidents. We are committed to achieving the best possible result for your case. We work to uncover the truth about what happened and to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. 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.