Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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This lawsuit arose from the explosion on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon that caused 4.9 million barrels of oil to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Defendants, environmental activists, contributed an article appearing in an Internet Web site that contained criticism of Plaintiff, a scientific consulting firm retained to assess the toxic effects of the oil spill on cleanup workers. Plaintiff brought claims for defamation in Massachusetts and in New York. Defendants filed a special motion to dismiss the Massachusetts suit under the anti-SLAPP statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H. The superior court denied the motion, concluding that Defendants failed to meet their threshold burden of showing that the suit was based exclusively on the exercise of their right of petition under the Constitution. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Defendants met their threshold burden because they were engaged in protected petitioning activity; and (2) Plaintiff could not show that such petitioning was devoid of reasonable factual support or arguable basis in law and therefore could not defeat the special motion. View "Cardno ChemRisk, LLC v. Foytlin" on Justia Law
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Odin Anderson, his wife, and his daughter (collectively, Plaintiffs) filed personal injury action for injuries Odin suffered after being struck by a bus owned by Partners Healthcare Systems that was being driven by one of its employees. Plaintiffs then filed a separate action against Partner’s insurers and claims representatives. A jury awarded Odin $2,961,000 in damages in the personal injury action and awarded Odin’s wife and daughter $110,000 each. At a subsequent jury-waived trial, a judge found that the insurers and claims representatives violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D by their misconduct. The judge awarded Plaintiffs treble damages using as the “amount of the judgment” to be multiplied the combined amount of the underlying tort judgment and the accrued postjudgment interest on that judgment. The appeals court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that, in a case where the amount of actual damages to be multiplied due to a wilful or knowing violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A or Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D are based on the amount of an underlying judgment, that amount does not include postjudgment interest. View "Anderson v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh Pa." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff purchased a new vehicle from Dealer that was subject to Manufacturer’s limited warranty. Plaintiff later filed a complaint against Manufacturer and Dealer (together, Defendants), alleging that the vehicle was defective and that Defendants failed to repair or remedy the defects under the warranty. Dealer demanded that Manufacturer reimburse Dealer for the attorney’s fees it incurred in defending against Plaintiff’s claims and indemnification for and liability incurred. Plaintiffs claims against Defendants were disposed of through summary judgment and voluntary dismissal. The judge also found that Dealer was not entitled to indemnificationt. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that because Plaintiff’s allegations alleged the fault or negligence of both Manufacturer and Dealer, Manufacturer did not have a duty to defend under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93B, 8(a).View "Ferreira v. Chrysler Group LLC" on Justia Law

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The Estate of Steven Gavin filed a wrongful death action against the Commonwealth and Tewksbury State Hospital under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, alleging that Gavin’s death was caused by the negligence of hospital staff members. The presentment of the claim was made by the Estate, through its attorney, and not by the executor or administrator of the Estate. The superior court allowed Defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the statutory requirements for presentment of a claim under the Act were not met in this case. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the presentment made by the Estate, before the appointment of an executor or administrator, was proper. Remanded.View "Estate of Gavin v. Tewksbury State Hosp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on ice on the walkway of a public school. The walkway was owned and operated by the City of Haverhill, and Plaintiff was on the premises to attend a scheduled parent-teacher conference. Plaintiff sued the City for negligence. The superior court allowed the City’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that Plaintiff’s claim was barred by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 21, 17C, which bars claims of ordinary negligence against a landowner, including a governmental entity, that has opened its land to the public for recreational, educational, or other enumerated purposes, without charging a fee. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the limitation on liability provided by the statute extends solely to land open to the general public; and (2) when Plaintiff was injured, the school was open only to a discrete group and not to the general publicView "Wilkins v. City of Haverhill" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff rented an apartment from Defendants, the owner and manager of the property. While ascending an exterior staircase leading to an outer door on the second floor landing, Plaintiff leaned against the staircase guardrail, which broke, causing Plaintiff to fall to the pavement below. Plaintiff sued Defendants. A jury found both parties negligent and concluded that, pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, 51, Defendants were strictly liable for Plaintiff’s injuries because the injuries were caused by violations of the State building code. Defendants filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, for a new trial, arguing that section 51 did not apply to the circumstances. The court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the part of the order denying the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict as related to the section 51 claim, holding (1) section 51 applies to all violations of the State building code, not just those concerning fire safety; and (2) the term “building” as used in the statute does not encompass within its ambit of strict liability of a small-scale residential structure like that occupied by Plaintiff, notwithstanding that the structure had some commercial characteristics. View "Sheehan v. Weaver" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the two defendants in this case were Roman Catholic priests. In 2010, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that Defendants published, in the parish where Defendant was serving, a false and defamatory stalking accusation against Plaintiff. Plaintiff knew that Defendants published the stalking accusation in 2005, but Defendant did not discover until 2007 that Defendants had fabricated the defamatory accusation. The superior court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the three-year statute of limitations barred Plaintiff’s claim and that the discovery rule did not toll the limitations period. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that, under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations should be tolled because, until 2007, Plaintiff reasonably could have believed that Defendants were permitted or privileged to repeat the defamatory statement. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment dismissing the complaint, holding (1) under the discovery rule, knowledge of the identity of the defendant is necessary for a cause of action to accrue; and (2) because Plaintiff knew in 2005 that Defendants were the publishers of the defamatory stalking accusation, Plaintiff’s complaint was not timely filed.View "Harrington v. Costello" on Justia Law
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Defendant was convicted of possessing or concealing stolen paintings. The victim of the theft (Plaintiff) filed a civil suit against Defendant for, among other claims, violations of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA) due to Defendant’s transfers of assets to his family members following the discovery of his identity as the holder of the stolen paintings. Plaintiff also brought claims for relief under the UFTA against Defendant’s family members alleged to have received the fraudulent transfers. A jury found Defendant had made seven fraudulent transfers within the meaning of the UFTA, entering judgment against Defendant for more than $4.3 million. Additionally, the judge ordered equitable remedies against the relief defendants for the purposes of identifying specific assets that had been fraudulently conveyed and could be subject to reconveyance in satisfaction of the judgment against Defendant. Lastly, the judge dismissed the claim against one of the relief defendants concerning assets in a shared trust because the funds in the trust had been dissipated. Defendant appealed, arguing that money judgments should have been ordered against the relief defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment except in respect to a savings account and the shared trust. Remanded.View "Bakwin v. Mardirosian" on Justia Law