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Articles Posted in Negligence

In a Cape Cod personal injury lawsuit, there are many laws, procedures, and rules that guide a case through the legal system. Experienced litigation attorneys are schooled in these matters and have systems in place to make sure that everything is filed in a timely and appropriate matter.

Those who chose to represent themselves – rather than hire a knowledgeable accident and injury attorney – are at a huge disadvantage in the court system. While a pro se litigant may be able to access some information about the court system online or at a law library, this limited knowledge is very rarely enough to result in a successful outcome in the case. Much more frequently, the plaintiff ends up having his or her case dismissed – often on procedural grounds – effectively forfeiting any chance of obtaining a verdict against the opposing party.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the record was sparse, but it appeared that the plaintiff was a man who had attempted to represent himself pro se in a personal injury lawsuit asserting a negligence claim against the defendant grocery store. The district court apparently dismissed the plaintiff’s cause of action. Rather than file a traditional appeal from the district court’s ruling, the plaintiff filed a petition in the county court, relying upon Massachusetts General Laws ch. 211, § 3 and seeking review of certain aspects of the district court’s ruling in his personal injury case.

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It is no secret that having the right automobile accident insurance is important, but many people do not truly understand the type of insurance that they need or even what coverage they currently have. Unfortunately, some drivers do not learn that they have inadequate coverage until they have been involved in a Cape Cod car accident. By then, of course, it is too late to get the appropriate coverage for that particular accident. Knowing what coverage you have, what additional coverage may be advisable, and how different types of coverage work is very important. Below, we discuss several different types of insurance coverage that can protect a family in the event of a crash.

“No-Fault” Does Not Always Mean No Lawsuit

Massachusetts is a “no-fault” state for purposes of automobile accident insurance. Under no-fault laws, drivers are required to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) insurance that will cover a certain dollar amount of medical expenses and a portion of lost wages resulting from an accident, regardless of who caused the collision. However, “no-fault” does not mean that no one can ever be held legally liable for injuries caused by an accident, nor does it mean that all of the insured driver’s expenses are covered under PIP. While each party must rely on his or her own insurance to pay minor expenses associated with a car accident, those who meet a certain threshold established by state statute have the right to file a traditional negligence lawsuit seeking full compensation from the responsible party.

Drivers are also required to purchase liability insurance to cover damages in the event that they are found to be at fault in an accident and the other driver (or a passenger) is able to get past the no-fault threshold and proceed toward traditional tort liability. Currently, the minimum coverage for bodily injury to others is $20,000 per person or $40,000 per accident. There is also a compulsory requirement for property damage (payable when the insured driver causes damages to someone else’s vehicle by causing an accident); the mandatory minimum is $5000 at present.

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Maintaining a personal injury or wrongful death claim against a governmental entity can be difficult. In fact, there was once a time in which such claims were not allowed under the law. Nowadays, however, a Cape Cod personal injury lawsuit against the government may be possible in some situations, although it can be expected that the government will attempt to get the case dismissed, if at all possible. Even if the claim survives a motion to dismiss, there may be limitations on the amount of damages available to the plaintiff for his or her injuries. There may also be other procedural hurdles, including the requirement of formal notice within a relatively short period after the accident.

Facts of the Case

In a recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case, the plaintiffs were a mother, father, and minor child who sought compensation from the defendant, a state child services department, for injuries suffered by the minor child due sexual assault by a foster child whom the family had taken in. Although the placement was supposed to be short-term, the defendant left the foster child (a 12-year-old boy) in the plaintiff foster parents’ care for several months. Unbeknownst to the plaintiffs – but known by the defendant – the foster child had a history of both having been sexually abused himself and also being the perpetrator of sexual abuse.

After the minor child (a 5-year-old girl) disclosed that the foster child had sexually assaulted her, the plaintiffs filed suit against the defendant, claiming that the defendant had been negligent in placing the foster child with them and that the defendant had breached a contractual agreement under which the defendant had agreed to provide the plaintiffs with “sufficient information” about any proposed foster child to enable them to knowledgeably determine whether to accept the child.

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If you have a potential negligence claim against an individual, business, or entity of the government, it is very important to remember that Cape Cod personal injury, wrongful death, and property damage claims can be subject to both a statute of limitations and a statute of repose.

The difference between these two limitations periods is significant. A statute of limitations gives the accident victim a certain amount of time, typically calculated from the date of the accident or sometimes from the date that the injury is discovered, in which to formally file a lawsuit. (Sometimes, formal notice is also required, especially for claims against the government.) In contrast, the statute of repose may be tied to an independent event not related to the actual accident or discovery of harm, thus rendering a claim time-barred before it even happens.

The Factual Background

In a recent case, the plaintiff was the insurer of a building that sustained extensive damage due to a natural gas fire. Acting as subrogee of the building owner, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant natural gas supplier, asserting that the defendant had been negligent in failing to detect or correct problems associated with the installation of natural gas into the building that had burned.

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Although you might not realize it if you were watching a Cape Cod personal injury case play out in a court room, the vast majority of negligence claims are actually paid by an insurance company, not the defendant himself or herself. Many negligence cases are settled out of court, but, even if a particular case proceeds to a jury trial, it is usually the defendant’s insurance company – not the defendant – who writes the check that satisfies the verdict.

Thus, the actual defendant typically does not have a say in the amount of the settlement or even input as to whether there will be a settlement. The insurance company bears the ultimately financial obligation, so the insurance company controls most of the litigation.

There are some special cases, however, in which the defendant has more of say in the matter. While it all depends on the language in the insurance contract, it is more often a “professional” defendant – such as doctor, lawyer, or engineer, whose professional reputation or even licensure could be affected by an admission of liability – who has an active role in a negligence lawsuit.

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Under Massachusetts law, contributory negligence does not necessarily bar recovery of monetary compensation for damages suffered in a car accident. Generally speaking, this means that being “a little at fault” in causing a crash does not prevent an injured person from filing suit to recover compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering caused by the collision. (It should be noted that the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by his or her percentage of fault in the crash.)

However, if the injured person’s fault was greater than the amount of negligence attributable to the opposing party, the injured person cannot recover any money damages from the other driver. This rule is known as the “modified comparative fault rule.” Additionally, an automobile accident insurance company may opt to impose a surcharge on an insured who is found to be more than 50% at fault in causing an accident. This is yet another reason to seek legal counsel following a Cape Cod car accident, especially one in which it was not clear who was at fault.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the appellant was a man who appealed a lower court’s judgment affirming a state board of appeal’s decision in favor of the appellee’s insurer with regard an insurance surcharge imposed on the appellant following an automobile accident. The appellant insisted that that the board (the Massachusetts Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds) had erred in upholding the insurer’s decision to impose a surcharge because, in the appellant’s view, he was not “more than 50% at fault” as the board had determined.

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In a Cape Cod personal injury lawsuit, the essential question is, did the defendant behave in a reasonably prudent manner under the circumstances? These types of cases can be very fact-specific, as what constitutes “reasonable” can vary substantially from situation to situation.

For example, generally speaking, it would not be considered reasonable to run into another person with the intent of knocking an object out of his or her possession. However, the same conduct might be considered acceptable within the confines of two teams playing a rough sport – hockey, for example. Still, even in a game, there are situations in which a negligence or recklessness claim may be viable. As stated above, it all depends on the circumstances.

Facts of the Case

In a recent Massachusetts appeals court case, the plaintiff was a hockey player who brought suit against the defendants (the plaintiff’s coach, a player on an opposing team, the opposing team’s coach, two referees, and others), seeking monetary compensation for injuries he allegedly incurred while participating in a hockey game. Both the plaintiff and the opposing player whose blades allegedly cut the plaintiff’s wrist during the game were 17 years old at the time of the incident giving rise to the litigation.

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Massachusetts workers have certain protections under state and federal law. For instance, most workplace injury cases fall under the provisions of Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws. Generally speaking, if a worker’s injury is covered by workers’ compensation, he or she will not be able to file a negligence lawsuit against the employer or a co-worker. While there are some exceptions to this general rule, most such claims are barred under Massachusetts law. A recent case explored this concept.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appeals court case, the plaintiff was a woman who sued her former employer (a bank) and two former co-workers, alleging that she had suffered personal injuries due to the defendants’ creation of a “toxic work environment” and asserting claims for negligent retention and/or supervision, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

The plaintiff opposed the defendants’ motion and moved for permission to amend her complaint to assert a claim for retaliation under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The trial court judge dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint without ruling on her motion to amend. The plaintiff appealed.

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The vast majority of Cape Cod car accident lawsuits are settled out of court. In most cases, the parties’ respective automobile accident liability insurance companies are part of the settlement process and, consequently, are bound by the terms of the settlement.

Sometimes, however, instances arise in which an insurance company may not be part of the settlement negotiations in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit arising from an automobile accident. A recent case explored such a situation and gave instructions for how such matters are to be handled in similar circumstances in the future.

The case at bar differed from the “typical” case in one important respect: one of the primary issues in the underlying litigation was whether the incident giving rise to the suit was an accident or whether it was the result of an intentional act. Importantly, the insurer was not obligated to make certain payments for an intentional act but was obligated to pay for damages arising from an act of negligence.

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It is not unusual for a Cape Cod premises liability, personal injury, or other negligence-based lawsuit to involve multiple claims against multiple defendants. When this happens, a plaintiff may opt to settlement some claims against some parties, while the remaining claims proceed to trial. The procedural hurdles involved in such a situation must be carefully followed, in order to preserve the legal rights of all those involved.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a tenant who sued his landlord and an appliance store, after a stove in his apartment exploded, severely burning the tenant’s right hand. The tenant’s claims against the landlord included negligence, vicarious liability for the store’s negligence, breach of the implied warranty of habitability, and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Against the store, the plaintiff sought compensation for negligence, breach of contract as a third-party beneficiary, violation of Massachusetts General Law ch. 93A, and strict liability. Various third-party and cross-claims were also filed in the lawsuit.

The tenant and the store entered into a settlement for $15,000. Without the tenant’s assent, the store filed a motion for entry of a separate and final judgment pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). The landlord opposed the motion. After a hearing, the trial court approved the settlement and ordered the entry of a separate and final judgment dismissing the tenant’s claims against the store. The landlord appealed.

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