Articles Posted in Premises Liability

bar-316626_960_720In the recent case of Pena v. Pena, a Massachusetts trial court considered the liability of a property owner for injuries that a visitor sustains due to the acts of a third party. The case provides an important example to litigants about the importance of following procedural rules and retaining an experienced trial lawyer.

The facts of the case are as follows. The defendant operated a bar in the town of Roxbury, Massachusetts. The plaintiffs, two men, were patronizing the bar one evening when they were both stabbed by another bar patron. In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that the bar owner’s negligence was the direct cause of their injuries. The defendants failed to timely respond to the complaint, and the trial court entered a default judgment against them. During the hearing, the court heard testimony about the incident and the nature and extent of the plaintiffs’ injuries. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of one of the plaintiffs totaling $70,000 and in the amount of $500 for the other plaintiff.

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pothole in groundIn the recent case of Peters v. Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc., the plaintiff was a deliveryman who alleged that he suffered severe injuries when he tripped on a pothole and fell while making a delivery at the defendant’s grocery store location. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged a cause of action for negligence, asserting a premises liability theory. According to Massachusetts law, property owners have a duty to keep their property in good repair and to fix any known dangerous conditions in a reasonable manner. If the landowner is not able to repair the condition, he or she must take steps to warn guests about the potential danger.

At the close of trial on the matter, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed, contending that the trial court erred when it provided five specific jury instructions before the jury began its deliberations.

On appeal to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court, the court first noted that during the trial court’s instruction regarding the property owner’s duty to the deliveryman and regarding whether the condition on which he allegedly tripped was open and obvious, the trial court erred. The instruction provided that “a person in control of the premises is not required to supply a place of maximum safety, but only one which would be safe to a person who exercises such care as the circumstances would reasonably indicate.” According to the court, the instruction conflated the jury’s requirement to consider the landowner’s duty to the deliveryman with its consideration of whether the plaintiff acted in a contributorily negligent manner.

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large parking lotIn the recent case of Bowers v. P. Wile’s, Inc., the plaintiff alleged that she was injured at a garden store owned by the defendant in the Cape Cod region. According to her complaint, the plaintiff was at the store traversing a pathway in the parking lot that was roughly six feet wide. Although the pathway was paved, the areas adjacent to the pathway were covered with gravel stones. In the rock and masonry industries, the types of rocks that were used are referred to as river stones. The store also often displayed merchandise along this pathway in close proximity to the stones.

The plaintiff stated that she tripped on one of these stones while walking across the pathway and that it caused her to fall. According to her testimony, she did not see the river stone before she stepped on it. Other testimony offered at trial suggested that the store had maintained this pathway with adjacent gravel areas for over 10 years and that the store operator had not been notified of any other trip and fall accidents involving the stones on the pathway.

Despite this, the store did have some notice that from time to time the river stones would become dislodged from the areas adjacent to the pathway and wind up on its surface. One of the responsibilities for store employees was to inspect the path to ensure that it was free of any stones.

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pallet with boxesIn the recent case of Belanger v. Boys in Berries, LLC, the plaintiff was patronizing a farm store owned by one of the defendants and insured by the other defendant when he tripped over a pallet on the store’s floor and fell. The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that he suffered injuries to his shoulder and hip, including painful fractures

All property owners, including shopkeepers, have a duty to keep their premises in safe, good working condition, to repair any dangerous or unsafe conditions, and to provide warnings to consumers about any known dangerous conditions that the shopkeeper has not fixed or is not able to fix. When it comes to stores that sell food, spilled food and slippery surfaces are a common issue. While there are a variety of general requirements that apply to food store owners, the level of maintenance, upkeep, and warnings that the shopkeeper must maintain is determined according to a reasonableness standard.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, which is a motion that asks a court to make a conclusive ruling on a case. In a motion for summary judgment, the moving party contends that there are no issues of material fact requiring a jury’s determination and that the court can decide the parties’ dispute as a matter of law. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

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black ice roadMassachusetts law allows a business guest, invitee, or visitor to sue a property owner for injuries that he or she sustains as a result of the property owner’s failure to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Property owners must also make reasonable repairs to their premises while providing visitors with warnings about any dangerous conditions of which they knew or should have known. This seems like a straightforward standard, but it can get complicated when it comes to determining whether a property owner can be held liable for the type of injury that resulted.

In Fleming v. A Plus Auto Body, Inc., the plaintiff sued an auto body repair shop for injuries she sustained when she slipped and fell on a patch of ice located on the repair shop’s property and broke her leg. The defendant moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion.

On appeal, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the lower court’s ruling. First, the intermediate court stated that the plaintiff was on her way to pick up her vehicle from the repair shop. The plaintiff was exiting her rental car, which was parked on Walnut Street, when she slipped on the ice. The defendant argued that it did not own Walnut Street and therefore could not be held liable for the injuries the plaintiff sustained on the public way in front of its premises. The defendant also contended that there was no evidence in the record suggesting that it created the dangerous condition on the public sidewalk.

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640px-Go-kartsIn Amaral v. Seekonk Grand Prix Corp., a woman suffered injuries while observing her children operate go-carts at the defendant’s go-cart facility in Massachusetts. The injuries occurred when one of the drivers on the course lost control of the go-cart in which he or she was riding, and it crashed through the fence where the woman was standing. Although the woman was required to purchase tickets for her children to use the go-cart facility, she did not have to buy a ticket in order to observe her children from behind the fence.

Shortly after the accident, the woman filed a negligence action against the owner of the go-cart facility, requesting compensation for her physical injuries, which included a painful pulmonary embolism that resulted from a blood clot that formed in the woman’s leg.

In response to the complaint, the defendant filed a motion indicating that summary judgment was appropriate according to the recreational use doctrine. Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws C. 21 Section 17C, a property owner that allows the general public to use its land for recreational activities without imposing a fee or charge for the use cannot be held liable for any injuries that an individual sustains during his or her time on the property. An exception to this statute is when the property owner engages in reckless, wanton, or willful conduct, and that conduct results in the victim’s injury.

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gravel-1083925_960_720In Stewart v. Five Bridge Inn, LLC, a woman suffered injuries while attending a wedding at an inn located in Massachusetts after suffering a fall. In particular, the woman experienced a broken tibia and fibula. The woman filed a premises liability complaint against the inn, alleging that an oddly shaped rock embedded in the parking lot was responsible for her tumble. During the litigation, however, the woman indicated that she was wearing three-inch heels during the accident and that she was not completely clear on whether the irregularly shaped rock was responsible for her tumble.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. In such a motion, the moving party advances that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the court should rule on the litigation as a matter of law. The lower court granted the motion, agreeing with the defendant’s assertion that the plaintiff did not prove that a defective condition at the defendant’s location was the cause of her injuries.

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D-7.5.3

When it comes to personal injury cases, there is little dispute over the duty of an insurance company to provide prompt, fair, and equitable representation and services to their insureds. This is especially true in situations when someone makes a claim against one of the insurance company’s policyholders, and the insured’s liability for the injuries and damages complained of is clear. In a recent case, a more nuanced question regarding insurance companies’ duties arose:  whether the defendant was actually in the business of providing insurance and subject to Massachusetts’ laws governing insurers’ duties at all.

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