Massachusetts Appellate Court Upholds $5.9 Million Punitive Damages Award in Product Liability Action

There are many ways that product liability accidents can occur. Although people are familiar with cases involving motor vehicles, sporting goods, food contamination, and medical devices, countless product-related accidents occur on-the-job. In a recent action, a Massachusetts appellate court considered whether a supposedly defective product was to blame for a construction worker’s death.

The case, Williamson-Green v. Equipment 4 Rent, Inc., involved the following facts. The decedent was working with a large piece of construction equipment called an articulating boom lift to inspect a rooftop of a building. While the plaintiff was perched in the basket at the end of the equipment’s arm, the equipment fell over and toppled into the building, which resulted in the man’s death. The decedent’s wife filed a wrongful death claim and product liability claim against both the maker of the equipment and the rental company who leased out the device.

A product liability claim is an action that seeks to hold a manufacturer responsible for its products that are determined to be unreasonably dangerous. This can be proven a number of ways. The plaintiff can show that the product’s design is unreasonably dangerous, or that the particular product in question that injured the plaintiff or decedent suffered from a manufacturing defect, making it unreasonably dangerous. Failure to provide adequate instructions and warnings with the product can also provide a basis of recovery under a product liability theory.

At the close of trial, the jury awarded the widow Roughly $3.7 millin in damages against both of the defendants. They also awarded $5.9 million in punitive damages against the rental company, which owned the equipment. Punitive damages are a category of damages that can be awarded where the jury concludes that the defendant acted recklessly, willfully, or with wantonness. They are meant to punish the defendant while also serving as a deterrent to other manufacturers from engaging in the same practices.

The rental company filed a number of post-trial motions including a motion for a new trial, a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or a remittitur. This last type of motion asks the court to reduce the jury’s verdict amount on the basis that the evidence in the record does not support the award. The lower court denied all three motions.

On appeal, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the trial court’s rulings, finding that the jury had sufficient facts to support both the award of compensatory damages and the punitive damages award. According to the appellate court, the rental company was negligent in terms of its training, inspection, and maintenance associated with the equipment. The defendant also failed to provide proper instructions to the decedent prior to allowing him to use the equipment.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries as the result of a dangerous product, you may be entitled to compensation. At the Law Offices of John S. Moffa, we proudly provide dedicated and seasoned legal counsel to injury victims throughout Massachusetts. We offer a free consultation to help you determine the best course of legal action for you and your family and do not recover any fees unless we obtain a settlement or a judgment in your favor. Call us now at 508-362-5554 or contact us online to set up your consultation today.

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