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Trust-300x225The trust. For many people, trusts are an intimidating legal construct they don’t want to be bothered with, perhaps feeling as though it is a needless complication created by lawyers to make money. Although having a trust may not be appropriate for some families, it can be a stable platform with which to address a number of problems outside of a courtroom, ultimately saving money and heartache. Consequently, it has become central to most. Below, I touch on several common trusts, but please note, these descriptions are far from exhaustive on the subject.

But first, what is a trust? Well, imagine that the concept of ownership isn’t one right, it is a bundle of rights. If I own a piece of real estate, I have the right to sell it, to develop it, to live on it. These rights can be split from one another. For instance, I can rent the property to someone, so I no longer have the right to live on the property, but I still own it. I can transfer my right to sell the property by selling someone an exclusive option to purchase it, but still maintain possession of the property. This concept of fractured ownership rights is important to a trust.

The trust itself can be viewed as a separate, individual person. It can open a bank account, purchase land, invest in the stock market, etc. But of course, someone must direct it to do so. This person is the trustee. The trustee has the authority to direct the trust and to act on its behalf, which is the “ownership interest.” However, unless the trustee is also a beneficiary, he or she cannot use any of the trust assets for his or her personal benefit.

FDA-300x221On May 23, 2017, Dr. Amy J. Reed, an anesthesiologist and mother of six children, passed away in her home at the age of 44. Her life was cut short by an aggressive form of uterine cancer, leiomyosarcoma. For her husband, the tragedy of her early death is entwined with regret and anger, as the two of them fought not only Stage IV leiomyosarcoma, but an intractable profession and the industry which profits from its practice.

At the age of 40, Dr. Reed was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. Fibroids are masses of the smooth muscle cells lining the inside of the uterus. Although fibroids are generally considered benign, their presence can cause serious discomfort and pain in the pelvic area. To treat her condition, Dr. Reed underwent a hysterectomy. She chose to have the procedure performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston—the hospital is affiliated with the Harvard Medical School, where both Dr. Reed and her husband, Dr. Hooman Noorchashm both held teaching positions.

After her surgery, the tissue was removed, and a biopsy was performed. The tissue contained leiomyosarcoma cells, an extremely aggressive form of uterine cancer. Although the biopsy revealed that the cancer cells had been confined to a very small area within a fibroid, the procedure through which the fibroids were removed seeded malignant cells throughout her abdomen. The dissemination of cancer cells caused her cancer to accelerate to Stage IV. The five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with Stage IV leiomyosarcoma is only 14%.

Lots-of-Guns-300x200As I explored in a previous blog, the Protection of Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, 15 U.S.C. § 7901 (2005), et seq., (“PLCAA”) has shielded gun manufacturers from suit since its enactment in 2005. The law bars any civil liability action against a firearms dealer or manufacturer, except for certain limited exceptions. My previous blog revolved around the parents of the victims killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, who survived summary judgment on a motion conceived under PLCAA filed by the defendant, Remington Arms Company. Now, the city of Kansas City is bringing a claim against a manufacturer and several firearms dealers, which may further chip away at the Act’s once impenetrable protection.

PLCAA’s protection is broad. 1515 U.S.C. § 7902 provides that “[a] qualified civil liability action may not be brought in any Federal or State court” against a firearms manufacturer or dealer. The definition of a qualified civil liability action is explored in § 7902, which defines the term broadly, encompassing ostensibly all civil claims against licensed gun dealers and manufacturers. However, § 7903(A) identifies certain claims that will not be considered a qualified action.

Contractual disputes or claims for breach of warranty are not qualified actions. § 7903(5)(A)(iv). Neither are claims related to defective design or manufacture of a firearm. § 7903(5)(A)(v). Claims arising out of negligent entrustment, where a manufacturer or a dealer puts a firearm into the hands of someone likely to injure themselves or others, are permitted. § 7903(5)(A)(ii; § 7903(5)(B). Similarly, if a manufacturer or dealer knowingly provides a gun to a person intending to commit a crime of violence or engage in drug trafficking, immunity from suit is not available. § 7903(5)(A)(i).

Court-with-Flag-300x200One of the most horrific mass shootings in the nation’s history occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. The shooter killed 20 children, all between the ages of 6 and 7, as well as 6 adults before killing himself. The families of those killed have brought a number of legal actions in response to the devastating losses they sustained on November 30, 2012.

Parents of children killed have brought several legal actions under various legal theories. One of the successful suits was against the shooter’s mother’s estate. Since she was also killed in the rampage, her estate was liable for injuries resulting from her negligent acts that contributed to the killing. The plaintiff’s claimed she negligently kept a Bushmaster AR-15 unsecured, allowing her troubled son access to the weapon. The parties settled for $1.5 million to be divided among the plaintiffs.

One family brought suit against the town and school district, alleging the school was unprepared and the response was insufficient. The trial court dismissed the case in 2018, ruling that the situation was so unexpected, intense, and wildly dangerous that hindsight regarding safety protocols could not be deemed negligent.

outside-court-300x204One out of five girls and one out of twenty boys are sexually assaulted. This figure may be much higher, as child sexual assault is frequently not reported, only revealed later in life when the adult can express what the child could not. Other times, the abuse is never reported. Whether or not reported, sexual assault causes grievous injury to the child. Children are among the most vulnerable of victims, but until recently, many states’ statutes of limitation were ill suited to redress survivors of childhood sexual assault.

In New York, prior to August 14, 2019, a child survivor of sexual assault had to file a civil suit for damages before his or her 23rd birthday. That window was as short as one year for certain types of claims. Claims against public institutions were even more restrictive, requiring the victim file a notice of claim within 90 days of the injury. Fortunately, on August 14, 2019 the New York Child Victims Act went into effect.

Going forward, a civil suit may be filed at any time until the survivor of sexual assault turns 55. This portion of the Act applies to claims that have not yet been extinguished under the old statute of limitations. In other words, individuals under the age of 23 (or younger, depending of the specific claim) will have until they turn 55 to file a claim. Essentially, young persons that are not ready to discuss their sexual abuse, have until their 55th birthday to bring suit.

3M is an enormous multinational conglomerate headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. The company is thoroughly diversified but is known most for manufacturing a wide range of products, including adhesives, abrasives, dental and orthodontic products, electronic equipment, software, and personal protective equipment. The company is presently suffering through the consequences of poorly designing certain personal protective equipment issued to the United States’ Armed Forces.

From 2003 through 2015, 3M produced protective earplugs for the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The earplugs were marketed as being effective at blocking dangerously loud sound, such as the sound of small arms and heavy weaponry fire, while still permitting users to effectively communicate verbally and hear approaching enemy combatants unimpeded.

The earplugs did not live up to the marketing. Due to a soldier-on-tank-300x277design flaw, the earplugs would loosen after insertion breaking the seal over the ear canal, allowing dangerous sound to penetrate and damage the inner ear. More astounding are the allegations that 3M knew about the defect as early as 2003, yet refused to recall, or even redesign the product until 2015. By 2006, several years after the defect was allegedly known, 3M’s contract with the United States government supplied an estimated 750,000 pairs of earplugs to the armed services on an annual basis.

hit and run

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Most arrests for drunk driving occur after a traffic stop. The officer initiates a traffic stop, detects signs of intoxication, conducts field sobriety tests, and typically concludes with a preliminary breath test (“PBT”). If the driver has consumed enough alcohol that a PBT demonstrates his or her blood alcohol content (“BAC”) is over the legal limit, the officer will arrest the driver for drunk driving. Upon reaching the police station, the driver will be subjected to additional breath tests, using a more sophisticated equipment.

Given the amount of evidence created in this chain of events, a successful defense is challenging. However, there are several key events occurring during the arrest which can be attacked. This blog focuses solely on the traffic stop itself, which implicates the Fourth Amendment constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

As a general matter, the manufacturers and sellers of goods can be held legally responsible if a product is defective or unreasonably dangerous. While there are three general types of Massachusetts product liability cases, the most common type of claim is a breach of warranty of merchantability.

courtroom

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Zolnierek

The warranty of merchantability is a warranty that attaches to any good that is sold. This warranty is implied, because it attaches regardless of the language the manufacturer includes on the packaging or any warning given by a salesperson. The warranty of merchantability ensures that a product will perform as expected for the specific purpose for which it was sold.

wedding dance

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Under Massachusetts law, landowners have a general duty to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition for invited guests. When a guest is injured due to some dangerous condition on another’s property, the injury victim can pursue a Massachusetts premises liability lawsuit against the landowner seeking compensation for their injuries.

To succeed in a premises liability case, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the landowner breached a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff. Additionally, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s breach of that duty resulted in their injuries. A recent federal appellate case from the First Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates the type of evidence necessary to prove a premises liability lawsuit.

ambulance

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In the event of the tragic death of a loved one, the surviving family members can bring a wrongful death claim against the person who they believe to be at fault for the accident. Massachusetts’s wrongful death statute allows a plaintiff to bring a claim against a defendant who negligently causes a person’s death, or who, “by willful, wanton or reckless act” causes the person’s death in a way that would have allowed the person to recover compensation if the person were still alive.

Under the statute, the following people can recover damages from a Massachusetts wrongful death claim:

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