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$100,000 Verdict Affirmed by Massachusetts Appeals Court in Case in Which Suspect Shot Third Party During Exchange of Gunfire with Police

The majority of Cape Cod personal injury cases based on the legal theory of negligence are filed against individuals or businesses. However, governmental entities can also be held accountable for negligence in some situations.

It is important to note that cases against the government may have special rules, including the requirement of giving written notice of one’s claim well in advance of the time that the statute of limitations would otherwise run (sometimes, the injured person has only a matter of days to take action).

There may also be a cap on the amount of damages that a city or other unit of the government will be required to pay.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was a woman who was shot in the leg by her sister’s boyfriend during a gunfight with police officers employed by the defendant city. Although the plaintiff and the sister’s boyfriend were “conversing calmly on the sidewalk” when the officers arrived, the officers were responding to a 9-1-1 call from the plaintiff’s sister. The two were apparently “not getting along” at the time. Reportedly, when the officers approached the plaintiff and her sister’s boyfriend, one of the officers grabbed the boyfriend from behind, intending to conduct a “patfrisk.” The boyfriend removed a firearm from his waistband, which led to him exchanging gunfire with the officers. The boyfriend was killed during the altercation.

The officer who attempted the “patfrisk” the boyfriend did not tell the other officers what he was going to do, and, reportedly, his actions took his fellow officers, one of who was “in the middle of ‘de-escalating’ the situation” by surprise. In fact, one of the officers testified that he would not have made such an “aggressive move” under the circumstances.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking damages under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act for damages that she suffered due to the officers’ alleged negligence. The case was tried to a jury, which found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded her $253,391.73. This amount was reduced, by statute (Massachusetts General Laws ch. 258, § 2), to $100,000. The city filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial. The trial court judge denied the city’s motion, and it appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. The court first noted that the jury, by special verdict, had concluded that at least one of the police officers who responded to the scene had been negligent prior to shots being fired and that this negligence was a substantial contributing factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. The court then noted that, if it could find any combination of circumstances through which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the plaintiff, as the nonmoving party, the verdict should stand. In reviewing the evidence submitted at trial, the court found that the plaintiff had met her burden of proof in showing that the officers had acted negligently, breached their duty of care, and actually caused her injuries.

In so holding, the court noted that an expert in police practices had pointed out that the officers were not responding to a “dangerous, fast-moving situation.” Had the officers been confronting a “perilous and quickly evolving emergency,” the court indicated that its decision might have been different.

Knowledgeable Cape Cod Negligence Attorney Reviewing New Cases

To talk to a helpful and experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney about an injury that you or a loved one has suffered to another’s negligence, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, at 888-262-6664 and schedule an appointment in our Hyannis or Plymouth offices.