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Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Defense Verdict for Landlord in Negligent Security Case Arising from Stabbing – Wess v. Butterworth

open door

When the parties to a lawsuit have rested their cases, the trial judge issues a set of instructions to the jury before they retire to deliberate. The majority of these instructions are general in nature, but some may be fact-specific.

The parties may make requests for the court to issue certain instructions, and adverse rulings may result in appeals, should the jury’s verdict be unfavorable to the requesting party.

When this happens, the appellate court must review the instructions to determine whether, taken as a whole, they adequately provided the jury with a correct statement of the law.

Facts of the Case

In the recent (unreported) case of Wess v. Butterworth, the plaintiff was a man who lived in an apartment building owed by the defendant landlord. The front door to the building did not have a locking door, thus allowing the public to come and go at will. The doors to the individual apartments did have locks, but they did not have peepholes. There was neither a buzzer system nor an intercom on the premises.

An “estranged friend” of the plaintiff entered the apartment building and knocked on the plaintiff’s door. The plaintiff opened the door, and the man stabbed him in the stomach with a nine-inch knife. The plaintiff filed suit against the landlord (both individually and as trustee of the building’s legal owner), asserting claims for negligence, breach of the warranty of habitability, and violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, § 51 and ch. 93A. (The plaintiff’s wife joined in the suit, asserting a claim for loss of consortium.) A jury trial resulted in a defense verdict. The plaintiff appealed.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court’s Ruling

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s entry of judgment for the defendant. Although the plaintiff argued that the trial court had committed reversible error with regard to certain jury instructions, the appeals court disagreed, holding that the jury instructions on foreseeability and proximate cause were correct and that the lower court did not err in refusing to give an instruction proposed by the plaintiff regarding the definitions of proximate cause and superseding cause. Any other errors regarding the jury charge were deemed waived because the plaintiff did not mention them in the brief on appeal.

According to the court, when read as a whole, the trial judge’s instructions to the jury were correct and appropriately addressed all of the plaintiff’s arguments regarding foreseeability, proximate cause, superseding cause, and intervening cause.

If You Have Questions About a Possible Negligent Security Lawsuit in the Cape Cod Area

When property owners and business operators breach their duty of care towards tenants, visitors, guests, and others, tragic consequences can result. If you or a family member has suffered a serious injury because of negligent security, you may be able to assert a claim against the responsible landowner. The Cape Cod negligent security attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can help you get started on your case. To schedule a free consultation, call us at (888) 262-6664. We have offices in both Hyannis and Plymouth offices. We serve all of the Cape Cod area.

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