Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Licata v. GGNSC Malden Dexter LLC
When Rita Licata was transferred to a nursing facility operated by Defendant Rita’s son Salvatore signed an agreement with the facility to arbitrate disputes arising from Rita’s stay at the facility. Salvatore signed the agreement in the space provided for the resident’s “authorized representative.” Rita suffered personal injuries at the nursing facility resulting in her death. Salvator filed a complaint as administrator of Rita’s estate against Defendant for, inter alia, wrongful death and negligence. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. The motion judge denied the motion, concluding that Salvatore lacked authority to execute the arbitration agreement on Rita’s behalf. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Salvatore lacked authority to execute the agreement on Rita’s behalf; and (2) the arbitration agreement did not otherwise bind Rita’s estate. View "Licata v. GGNSC Malden Dexter LLC" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Kindred Healthcare, Inc.
Barbara Johnson, in her capacity as her husband Dalton’s health care agent, signed an agreement with a nursing facility to arbitrate disputes arising from Dalton’s stay at the facility. While a resident of the facility, Dalton suffered burns and later died. The administrators of Dalton’s estate, filed a complaint against nursing home defendants and others, arguing that Barbara, as Dalton’s health care agent, did not have the authority to execute the arbitration agreement on his behalf. A superior court judge entered an order compelling mediation or arbitration. The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court, holding that a health care agent’s decision to enter into an arbitration agreement is not a health care decision under the health care proxy statute, and therefore, an agreement to arbitrate all claims arising out of a principal’s stay in a nursing facility does not bind the principal where the agreement was entered into solely by a health care agent under the authority of a health care proxy. View "Johnson v. Kindred Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law
Aleo v. SLB Toys USA, Inc.
In 2006, while visiting relatives in Andover, 29-year-old Aleo attempted to use an inflatable swimming pool slide that had been imported and sold by Toys R Us. She slid down head first; when she reached the bottom of the slide, it collapsed, and her head struck the concrete deck of the swimming pool through the fabric of the slide. Robin's upper two cervical vertebrae fractured, resulting in quadriplegia. She died the following day, after her family, in accordance with her wishes, withdrew life support. Her estate sued, alleging negligence, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, wrongful death, and violation of G.L. c. 93A. A jury found Toys R Us liable for negligence, breach of warranty, and wrongful death, awarding compensatory damages of $2,640,000 and punitive damages of $18 million. Under G.L. c. 229, punitive damages available for gross negligence in wrongful death action. The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed, finding that Toys R Us exhibited a “substantial degree of reprehensibility.” The court rejected challenges to pretrial rulings, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the constitutionality of the $18 million award of punitive damages. View "Aleo v. SLB Toys USA, Inc." on Justia Law
N.E. Physical Therapy Plus, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co.
After being billed by NEPT for medically necessary chiropractic services provided to the passenger of its insured, Liberty Mutual, claimed that the cost was unreasonably high and thus refused to pay the full amount invoiced. At trial, Liberty Mutual sought to introduce statistical evidence from a commercial database to show that NEPT's charges exceeded the 80th percentile of reported charges for the same procedures, pursuant to G.L. c. 233, 79B, which creates a limited exception to the hearsay rule for factual statements contained in commercial publications. The trial judge denied the motion, finding that the database was unreliable, based on a prior decision from the appellate court with respect to the database. The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed. Based on the explicit language of section 79B, and the gatekeeper role of a trial judge, it is within a judge's discretion to consider the reliability of evidence offered pursuant to section 79B. View "N.E. Physical Therapy Plus, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law
McInnes v. LPL Fin., LLC
Karl McGhee, a financial advisor at LPL Financial, acted as financial planner for Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a complaint against McGhee and LPL, asserting claims for, inter alia, violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. Defendants moved for an order compelling the parties to proceed to arbitration due to an arbitration agreement signed by Plaintiff. The motion judge denied the motion, concluding that none of Plaintiff's claims could be compelled to arbitration because claimants under chapter 93A, section 9 are not required to submit to arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) claims alleging an unfair or deceptive trade practice in violation of chapter 93A, section 9 must be referred to arbitration where the contract involves interstate commerce and the agreement is enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA); and (2) because Plaintiff and Defendants in this case entered into a valid contract whereby they agreed to settle all controversies related to Plaintiff's financial account by arbitration, and because the arbitration agreement was governed by the FAA, Defendants as a matter of law were entitled under the FAA to a stay of judicial proceedings and an order compelling arbitration. Remanded. View "McInnes v. LPL Fin., LLC" on Justia Law
Caron v. Horace Mann Ins. Co.
Insureds purchased a homeowner's insurance policy from Insurer with a personal liability limit of $500,000. The policy contained an animal liability endorsement (endorsement) which limited coverage to $25,000 for claims arising from animal bites. Both Insurer's agent and Insureds mistakenly believed the policy did not contain the limitation of liability but neither conveyed their mistaken belief to the other. After Plaintiff was bitten by Insured's dog, he and his wife successfully brought an action against Insureds. Insurer paid only $25,000 of this judgment. Plaintiffs and Insureds reached a settlement regarding the balance of the judgment and Plaintiffs became assignees of Insureds' claims against Insurer. Plaintiffs sued Insurer, alleging that Insureds and Insurer were mutually mistaken as to the application of the endorsement, and therefore, the policy should be reformed by striking the endorsement. The superior court concluded Plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment on the reformation claim. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that, absent full, clear, and decisive proof of some prior agreement between the parties as to coverage for animal bites different than that contained in the policy, there was no mutual mistake warranting reformation of the policy. View "Caron v. Horace Mann Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Alicea v. Commonwealth
Luis Alicea pleaded guilty to a firearm offense and was sentenced to three and one-half years' incarceration. Alicea later filed suit in federal court against his former defense counsel, Lawrence McGuire, alleging that McGuire's conduct resulted in Alicea's serving an illegal sentence. The district court judge granted summary judgment for McGuire. While the federal case was pending, Alicea filed an action in the superior court against the Commonwealth as McGuire's employer, asserting claims of malpractice and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Alicea's claims were premised on the allegation that McGuire had caused Alicea to serve an illegal sentence. The superior court granted summary judgment for the Commonwealth, concluding that the judgment entered in the federal action precluded Alicea from litigating the issue of his purported illegal sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the central issue of Alicea's claims in the superior court was decided in the federal action, application of the doctrine of issue preclusion prevented Alicea from relitigating the issue. View "Alicea v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law
Flagg v. Alimed, Inc.
Employee's wife underwent surgery for removal of a brain tumor. After her tumor returned, Employer terminated Employee's employment. Employer terminated Employee because Employer was financially responsible for Employee's wife's medical condition through its health plan. Employee sued for employment discrimination, among other claims. The superior court granted Employer's motion to dismiss, finding, among other things, that Employee's claim of employment discrimination did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted, as the theory that Employer fired Employee because his wife was handicapped was not recognized in the Commonwealth. The Supreme Court reversed with respect with regard to the employment discrimination claim, holding (1) associational discrimination based on handicap is prohibited under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, 4(16); and (2) Employee alleged a plausible set of facts for relief in alleging that he was fired because of his association with his handicapped wife. View "Flagg v. Alimed, Inc." on Justia Law
Evans v. Lorillard Tobacco Co.
Marie Evans died at fifty-four years old from small cell lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes. Marie's son, Willie Evans, filed this action against Lorillard Tobacco Company (Defendant), the designer and manufacturer of Newport brand cigarettes. A jury (1) found Defendant caused Marie's wrongful death based on various theories of liability; (2) found Marie also to be negligent, and apportioned a percentage of the comparative negligence to her; (3) awarded damages to Plaintiff for the loss of Marie's companionship and awarded damages to Marie's estate for her conscious pain and suffering; and (4) awarded punitive damages. The judge also found Lorillard violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 2. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the jury was not adequately instructed regarding the claim of wrongful death based on the theories of negligent design and marketing, and therefore, the jury's finding that Marie's wrongful death was caused by Lorillard's negligence and the award of punitive damages must be vacated; and (2) the judge erred in finding Lorillard committed unfair acts or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce, and therefore, Plaintiff's claim under chapter 93A must be vacated. Remanded. View "Evans v. Lorillard Tobacco Co." on Justia Law
Wheatley v. Mass. Insurers Insolvency Fund
In 2001, Plaintiff, a special education student at a public elementary school in the town of Duxbury, fell and sustained injuries while unsupervised at school. Plaintiff presented a claim to the town based on her injuries. The Massachusetts Insurers Insolvency Fund, an association that settles unpaid claims covered by an insurance policy issued by an insurer that later becomes insolvent, made no offer to settle Plaintiff's claim despite its obligation to defend the town. Plaintiff subsequently commenced a consumer action against the insolvency fund. The superior court allowed the insolvency fund's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Court decided that the insolvency fund was subject to consumer actions and remanded the case. The parties subsequently settled Plaintiff's negligence claim. A superior court judge ruled that Plaintiff was entitled to attorney's fees, a decision the insolvency fund appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where, as here, a plaintiff prevails in a consumer action against the insolvency fund under the consumer protection act, the insolvency fund is liable for reasonable attorney's fees. View "Wheatley v. Mass. Insurers Insolvency Fund" on Justia Law