Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys
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Each year, thousands of employees suffer devastating injuries while at work. Many of these accidents could be avoided if employers complied with applicable federal and Massachusetts health and safety laws. According to these regulations, employers have a duty to maintain a safe job site. This includes fixing broken equipment or fixtures, providing appropriate safety protections, and ensuring that employees obtain appropriate training based on their job assignments and duties. Beyond the regulations, an employer can be held liable for injuries to its employees that are the result of its negligence or recklessness.

The Boston Globe recently reported that an ammonia leak at a Stavis Seafood warehouse in South Boston has resulted in the death of one of the company’s employees. The four surviving employees stated that they smelled ammonia toward the final hour of their shift, engaged the emergency shut off valve, and attempted to exit the warehouse as quickly as possible. The fifth employee working that night, however, did not survive. Reports indicated that the ammonia fumes were so severe that firefighters and hazmat crew members were unable to enter the building upon arriving at the scene.

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In 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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A former Massachusetts State Trooper has filed a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, seeking damages he sustained after one of the manufacturer’s vehicles pinned him against a wall. The officer, John J. Malone, suffered a torn ACL, fractures to both knees, and severe bruising that required hospitalization. The complaint names over 40 specific injuries that the plaintiff endured. It also states that the 69-year-old former professional will require a total knee replacement in the future.

Filed in federal U.S. District Court, the complaint states that the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings regarding a defect in its gear shift design and that it concealed information about its failure to address and fix the design defect. The factual allegations allege that the ZF Shifter is dangerous because the feedback mechanism is not adequate when it comes to providing a signal that the car has been shifted into the park position. Also, the plaintiff alleges that it lacks a mechanism that puts the car in park when the driver side door is ajar, and pressure is taken off the brake pedal.

This case is similar to another lawsuit involving a defective gear shifter, which was filed by former Star Trek Beyond star Anton Yelchin. In his lawsuit, he alleged that he was injured when his vehicle rolled away from his home down the driveway and pinned him between a pillar and a fence. The plaintiff was later declared deceased as a result of the accident and the injuries he sustained from the pinning. According to the police report, the vehicle was running, and the gear stick was set in the neutral position.

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One of the most critical aspects of any personal injury claim is the statute of limitations. Massachusetts law imposes certain timelines dictating when a plaintiff must file his or her lawsuit against the defendant. If the plaintiff fails to initiate the action within the statute of limitations period, the plaintiff will be completely barred from obtaining any compensation from the plaintiff. The statute of limitations differs depending on the type of action, and there are a number of rules and exceptions that apply to calculating when the statute of limitations on your action will run.

A recent case highlights just how important it is to consider the statute of limitations in your action and to act promptly after realizing that you may be entitled to compensation. In Abrahamson v. Estate of LeBold, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against an estate claiming that the defendant was liable based on multiple theories, including contract, tort, and according to certain consumer protection statutes. The lower court dismissed the action, finding that the plaintiff had failed to file the lawsuit within the statute of limitations period provided in Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code Section 3-803(a). Under this provision, the action should have been filed within one year of the date that the decedent passed away.

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In the recent case of Milambo v. Satlin, a Massachusetts appellate court affirmed a ruling in favor of the defense in a medical malpractice case involving the stillbirth of a child. The plaintiff in the lawsuit was the father of a child who was stillborn. The baby was delivered via Caesarian section (C-section) during 2007. The father brought the lawsuit in his capacity as the personal representative of the deceased infant’s estate.

According to the complaint, roughly 45 minutes passed between the moment that the physician overseeing the birth informed the mother that a C-section procedure was needed and the time that the mother provided her consent to proceed with the procedure. After the child was delivered via C-section, it was discovered that the infant had a zero score on the Apgar scale and lacked any detectable pulse.

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In Weiss v. City of Cambridge, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries when she was struck by a truck as she crossed a major street. The plaintiff was crossing within the crosswalk when the driver of the truck made a left-hand turn, striking the plaintiff. She suffered serious long-term injuries to both knees, incurred substantial medical bills, and was unable to attend several weeks of work. The truck was being driven by an employee of the City of Cambridge.

At trial, the main issue was the amount of fault that should be apportioned between the driver and the plaintiff. Although the plaintiff was within a crosswalk at the time she was struck, evidence at trial indicated that the plaintiff did not obey the pedestrian signal at the time she crossed the street. The jury assigned 35 percent fault to the plaintiff and the remaining percentage of fault to the driver of the truck. Based on Massachusetts law, the plaintiff’s damages award was reduced by 35 percent to reflect her contributory negligence.

The City appealed, alleging that the judge improperly instructed the jury regarding the application of certain statutes that apply to truck drivers and pedestrians. One of the statutes at issue details the responsibilities that drivers have when it comes to pedestrians in marked crosswalks. According to the city, the plain language of this statute required a finding that it should not be applied to the present case.

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In 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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The law of negligence provides compensation for injured parties who suffer harm as the result of another person’s negligence. This doctrine extends not only to average laypersons but also to government employees. Over time, the law of negligence as applied to government actors has developed, leading to a different standard that applies in cases in which public officials or agents act carelessly. One of the primary differences between a negligence lawsuit against an individual versus against the government is that the injured party must provide the government with notice of the intent to file a lawsuit before initiating the action. There are also limits on the amount of damages that an injured layperson can recover from the government for a tortious act.

A Massachusetts appellate court recently considered a tort claim filed against the government. In Landry v. Massachusetts Port Authority, the plaintiff filed a claim seeking damages from a port authority in Massachusetts as well as the city in which the port authority operated. The plaintiff, who worked as a delivery driver for a commercial laundry service, alleged that he was injured at the Worcester Regional Airport when a motorized sliding gate malfunctioned and pinned him to a metal bar. The man was at the airport for the purpose of delivering a clean set of uniforms for the airport employees.

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A Massachusetts appellate court recently upheld a trial court’s order granting two daughters millions of dollars in damages as compensation for enduring years of sexual abuse from their father. According to the complaint, the defendants suffered repeated incidents of sexual abuse. During trial on the matter, both plaintiffs provided thorough testimony describing the nature, scope, and extent of the sexual abuse. They also testified regarding the physical and mental harm that they suffered and continued to suffer as a result of the assaults. One of the expert witnesses for the plaintiffs testified regarding the emotional injuries specifically, stating that as a result of the repeated sexual abuse, both daughters experienced anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and issues engaging in sexual relationships.

The defendant father refrained from testifying, instead relying on his counsel’s cross-examination of the witnesses for the plaintiffs and the witnesses themselves. At the close of evidence, the jury deliberated and returned a verdict awarding each of the plaintiffs $1.5 million for the assaults and an additional $3.5 million for their respective claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

According to the seminal case of Agis v. Howard, to recover damages on a claim for IIED, the plaintiff must show four factors:

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In any case involving the alleged wrongful death of the victim, the surviving heirs bringing the action must show that the defendant acted negligently at the time of the accident. This involves proving four separate elements:  duty, breach, causation, and damages. In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff typically must offer testimony from a medical expert regarding the issues of duty and breach. The trial court is vested with the authority to decide whether the expert whom the plaintiff has selected has sufficient experience and knowledge to provide an expert opinion about the issue.

In Ellis v. Clarke, the plaintiff brought an action on behalf of the estate of a woman who passed away due to lung cancer. The plaintiff named the treating physician for the decedent as the defendant in the action. After trial, the jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor, finding that the doctor had acted negligently and that the lack of adequate medical care he tendered was a substantial cause in the decedent’s passing.

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