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Cause for Concern? Town Allegedly Agrees to Purge Teacher’s Records of Complaint that She Endangered Child by Exposing her to an Allergen

peanutSometimes, it’s hard to know whose side to take. In a recent case between a teacher and a town that had allegedly breached its agreement to “eradicate any and all records” with regard to an accusation that the teacher had recklessly exposed a child to an allergen, the court came down on the side of the teacher, agreeing with her that she was the wronged party when the town released an investigative report to the child’s father, who turned the report over to the authorities.

However, when one considers the case from the perspective of the child and her father, things are not so clear. While the criminal charge against the teacher was ultimately dismissed, one wonders whether a civil tort action would have been likewise dismissed, had the family chosen to pursue that course rather than a criminal charge.

Had the town held to its agreement to, in effect, destroy the evidence of the complaint against the teacher, how would this have affected discovery in a civil lawsuit seeking compensation for injuries suffered by the child (if injuries could, in fact, have been proven)?

Facts of the Case

In an unreported case recently decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the plaintiff was a school teacher who filed suit against the defendant town after the town allegedly breached a contract in which the town agreed to purge the teacher’s personnel record of documents relating to a complaint that she had endangered a child by exposing her to an allergen. According to the teacher, she agreed to a short unpaid suspension in exchange for the purging of her record of the incident.

The teacher further alleged that, some three years after the party’s purported agreement, the child’s father requested that the town produce the investigative report of the incident, including an accusation that the teacher had recklessly endangered the child. The town did so, and the woman was charged with child endangerment. Although the charge was later dismissed, the woman claimed that she had suffered depression and post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the town’s actions and that she had left her $70,000 teaching job due to the criminal complaint against her.

The case was tried to a jury, which found in the teacher’s favor. The town appealed, arguing that the trial judge should have granted its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, alternatively, its motion for a new trial or a remittitur.

Decision of the Appeals Court

The court affirmed, holding that the trial court judge had not abused his discretion in denying the town’s motions. In so holding, the court found that the evidence justified the jury’s verdict, observing that the town’s release of the investigative report to the father led to the criminal complaint against the teacher.

Perhaps the teacher was “in the right,” and the family overreacted to the situation. The jury apparently agreed with the teacher that the town should not have released the report, and the district attorney dismissed the criminal complaint against her. Still, this case has some disturbing implications with regard to the potential destruction of evidence in future cases. Although the employee (the teacher) and the employer (the town) found themselves on opposite sides in this rather unique case, often, both an employer and an employee are named as defendants when a third party is injured by an employee’s alleged negligence or other wrongdoing. Could this case encourage collusion to cover up reports of wrongdoing in the future?

Do You Have a Question About a Potential Personal Injury Case?

If you have been hurt, the time to take action is now. Evidence spoliation can greatly affect not only the value of a personal injury lawsuit but also whether or not the case survives a motion for summary judgment and is allowed to be heard by the jury. To talk to a Cape Cod injury attorney about your case, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at (888) 262-6664 and ask for a free consultation. We’ll do the rest!

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