Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Berry v. Commerce Insurance Co.
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court concluding that the tortfeasor in this case, a police officer, was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, holding that there was no error.Officer Shawn Sheehan and Officer Russell Berry, both of the Raynham police department, were undergoing a day-long mandatory firearms training on town-owned property when Sheehan struck Berry with his car after purchasing lunch. Berry sustained severe injuries to his leg and submitted a written demand letter to Commerce Insurance Company, claiming that Sheehan's liability was clear and that Commerce, as Sheehan's automobile insurer, was responsible for payments to cover his damages. Commerce denied coverage, claiming that Sheehan was immune from tort liability under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, 2. Berry then commenced this action against Commerce seeking a judgment declaring that Sheehan was not immune under the Act. The superior court entered judgment in favor of Berry. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the superior court correctly determined that Commerce was liable for Berry's injuries because Sheehan was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. View "Berry v. Commerce Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Edwards v. Commonwealth
In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court judge denying the Commonwealth's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's complaint alleging wrongful termination under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 185, the Massachusetts whistleblower act, holding that there was no error.In 2014, Governor Deval Patrick dismissed Plaintiff from her position as chair of the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB), stating to the media that Plaintiff had improperly interfered in a sex offender classification proceeding and had attempted inappropriately to influence the hearing examiner. Plaintiff brought this complaint against Patrick for defamation and against the Commonwealth for wrongful termination. The claims against Patrick were dismissed, but the superior court denied the Commonwealth's motion for summary judgment on the remaining whistleblower claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that genuine issues of material fact remained in dispute, precluding summary judgment in favor of the Commonwealth. View "Edwards v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law
Laramie v. Philip Morris USA Inc.
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the trial court entering judgment upon the jury's verdict in this wrongful death case and awarding Plaintiff $11 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, holding that there was no prejudicial error.In 1995, the Attorney General filed a complaint against Philip Morris and other manufacturers of tobacco products, arguing that the companies had conspired to mislead the Commonwealth and its citizens concerning the risks of smoking. The parties settled the case three years later as part of a nationwide settlement. In 2017, Plaintiff, the widow of a smoker who died from lung cancer after decades of smoking Philip Morris cigarettes, sued Phillip Morris pursuant to the wrongful death statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, 2. The jury rendered a verdict for Plaintiff. On appeal, Philip Morris argued that the 1998 settlement precluded Plaintiff's recovery of punitive damages. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the doctrine of claim preclusion did not apply in these circumstances and that Philip Morris was not prejudiced by the other asserted errors at trial. View "Laramie v. Philip Morris USA Inc." on Justia Law
Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. v. Melendez
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss this personal injury action on statute of limitations grounds, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff brought this action against Defendant, a grocery store chain, alleging that she was injured in a collision with a grocery cart as a result of the negligence of one of Defendant's employees. Plaintiff filed the complaint after the expiration of the applicable period of limitation in light of the Supreme Court's order that all civil statutes of limitations were tolled from March 17, 2020 through June 30, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss based on the plain language of the order. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's claims on appeal failed. View "Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. v. Melendez" on Justia Law
Heath-Latson v. Styller
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court judge granting Defendant's motion to dismiss this wrongful death action, holding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the duty Defendant owed to the decedent in this case extended to protecting him from injury caused by a third party.Plaintiff was the mother of Keivan Heath, who was shot and killed at a house party by an unidentified shooter. Plaintiff, as the personal representative of the decedent's estate, sued Defendant, the property owner who had rented the house for the party, for wrongful death. The superior court dismissed the action. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the complaint did not plausibly suggest either that Defendant owed a legal duty to the decedent by virtue of his property ownership or that Defendant voluntarily assumed such a duty. View "Heath-Latson v. Styller" on Justia Law
Fitzpatrick v. Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers of New York, Inc.
In this personal injury suit, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial judge allowing Defendants' motion for a mistrial after Plaintiff's counsel purportedly made improper comments during his closing argument, holding that the judge did not abuse her discretion in allowing the motion for a mistrial.The judge in this case chose to reserve decision on Defendants' motion for a mistrial until after the jury rendered their verdict. Only after the jury found for Plaintiff did the judge allow the motion and declare a mistrial. After a second trial, Plaintiff once again prevailed but was awarded significantly lower damages. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that once the verdict had been returned, the motion for a mistrial should have been evaluated under the standard for a motion for a new trial. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) in civil cases, a motion for a mistrial must be decided when made, and after a jury verdict the appropriate method to seek to have a case tried again is by filing a motion for a new trial; and (2) because this requirement applies only prospectively, the judge in this case properly allowed the motion for a mistrial. View "Fitzpatrick v. Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers of New York, Inc." on Justia Law
Dunn v. Genzyme Corp.
In this case involving claims of personal injury and product liability against the manufacturer of a medical device the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision of the superior court judge denying the manufacturer's motion to dismiss, holding that plaintiffs asserting parallel state law claims may do so with no greater degree of specificity than otherwise required under Iannacchino v. Ford Motor Co., 451 Mass. 623, 636 (2008).Plaintiff sued Genzyme Corporation, asserting that Synvisc-One, a class III medical device subject to premarket approval under the Medical Device Amendments (MDA), 21 U.S.C. 360c et seq., was negligently manufactured, designed, distributed, and sold by Genzyme. Genzyme filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the allegations were preempted by federal regulation. The trial judge denied the motion to dismiss. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that while all of Plaintiff's state law claims properly paralleled the federal requirements, none of them was sufficiently pleaded under Iannacchino to survive Genzyme's motion to dismiss. View "Dunn v. Genzyme Corp." on Justia Law
Tinsley v. Town of Framingham
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment on several claims against police officers personally, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact whether the police officers used excessive force against Appellant after he was removed from his vehicle.Plaintiff, a black man, was stopped by two police officers. The stop escalated into a physical altercation during which five police officers forcibly removed Plaintiff from the vehicle and wrestled him to the ground. Plaintiff was convicted of several offenses stemming from the incident. While the criminal case was pending, Plaintiff filed a civil action alleging that the officers committed several torts and violated his civil rights. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants on the civil action. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment in part, holding (1) Plaintiff's civil action may only proceed where it is based on facts beyond those that were necessary to sustain Plaintiff's prior criminal conviction and where Plaintiff demonstrates that his claims would not necessarily challenge the validity of his prior criminal conviction; and (2) this conclusion does not bar the claims that Plaintiff based on events that occurred after the police officers forcibly removed him from his vehicle. View "Tinsley v. Town of Framingham" on Justia Law
Helfman v. Northeastern University
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court granting summary judgment to Northeastern University on Plaintiff's negligence-related claims stemming from a nonconsensual encounter with a fellow student, holding that, under the circumstances, Northeastern had no duty to protect Plaintiff.In her complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Northeastern negligently failed to prevent and contributed to the occurrence of the sexual assault. Plaintiff further asserted tort, contract, and statutory claims alleging that Northeastern failed adequately to respond to the incident. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) a special student-university relationship between Plaintiff and Northeastern existed, but Northeastern owed no duty to protect Plaintiff because Northeastern could not reasonably have foreseen that, absent some intervention on its part, Plaintiff would be subjected to a criminal act or other harm; and (2) there was no error in the motion judge's conclusions regarding Plaintiff's statutory or contract claims. View "Helfman v. Northeastern University" on Justia Law
Goreham v. Martins
In this personal injury action, the Supreme Judicial Court held that Tenant was not entitled to personal injury damages based on Landlord's failure keep the driveway reasonably free of snow and ice.Tenant was severely injured when he slipped and fell on ice in the driveway adjacent to the premises he rented. A jury found Landlords negligent for failing to exercise reasonable care in keeping the driveway free of ice. However, the jury rendered a verdict of no liability, finding that Tenant was comparatively negligent and more responsible for the injury than Landlords. Based on the jury's finding, the judge found Landlords not liable on Tenant's additional claims alleging breach of the common-law implied warranty of habitability and violation of the statutory covenant of quiet enjoyment. Tenant appealed, arguing that he should recover personal injury damages on his remaining claims because the jury found Landlords negligent. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) a tenant may not be awarded personal injury damagers on a claim for breach of the implied warranty of habitability arising from a landlord's failure to keep common areas reasonably free of snow and ice; and (2) in this case, Tenant may not recover personal injury damages under the statutory covenant of quiet enjoyment. View "Goreham v. Martins" on Justia Law