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Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

In order to adjudicate a claim, a court must have subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, and venue. If subject matter jurisdiction is not present, the only remedy is dismissal of the case because the court lacks the authority to hear the case.

With regard to personal jurisdiction and venue, however, there is also the possibility of a transfer of the case to a more appropriate forum. This is especially true in the federal courts.

Recently, a corporation with deep ties to Massachusetts challenged the jurisdiction and venue of a lawsuit filed against it in a New York federal court.

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Releases and waivers of liability are so commonplace these days that many people sign them without even stopping to consider the consequences. Perhaps they even doubt that such agreements will hold up in court if an accident does happen.

The truth is that a release or waiver is an important legal document that has the potential to forfeit considerable legal rights, particularly the right to recover compensation for injuries (or even a wrongful death) suffered due to the negligence of the individual, business, or government to which the waiver is granted.

Occasionally, the courts will find a reason to rule a particular release or waiver invalid, but, very often, these documents are upheld as legally binding upon the person who signed them. Thus, it is always a good idea to carefully consider whether the activity for which a waiver is required is important enough to forego your right to sue, should you be seriously injured because of another party’s negligence or carelessness.

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Store owners, including those that own grocery stores, convenience markets, and other establishments selling food, have a responsibility to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition. Although there are some general requirements, the specifics of what is considered “reasonable” can vary from case to case.

Generally, the term “reasonably safe condition” means that, at a minimum, a store or supermarket should keep its aisles clear and accessible, make sure its floors are clean and dry, and respond promptly should an employee or customer cause a spill or other issue compromising customer safety.

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Generally speaking, businesses and other landowners have a duty to maintain their premises and warn visitors of known dangerous conditions. A failure to do so can result in an award of monetary damages to a person who is hurt due to the business owner’s breach of duty.

Of course, such cases are often highly contested, with the defendant arguing that the plaintiff – rather than the business owner – was at fault in the accident. When the parties cannot agree on a reasonable settlement, it is up to a jury to decide who was at fault and, if the defendant is found liable, the amount of damages to which the plaintiff is entitled.

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When the negligence of a landowner or business operator causes a guest or customer to fall and suffer injuries, the injured person can file a premises liability lawsuit to seek monetary compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Typically, the defendant in such a case will attempt to avoid a finding of liability by claiming that the plaintiff was at fault, that some intervening act caused the accident, or, as in a recent case, that the defendant was not legally responsible for the property on which the plaintiff fell.

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The Massachusetts recreational use statute, also known as the Massachusetts public use statute, shields from liability those who make their land available to the public for recreational use in certain situations. Of course, this exemption is not automatic, and a landowner must prove that he, she, or it is entitled to immunity under the circumstances of a particular case.

Recently, the Massachusetts Appeals Court was called upon to decide whether a commercial recreational facility was entitled to relief from liability when it charged a fee to engage in certain activities but not to watch others as a spectator.

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Premises liability lawsuits can arise from a number of circumstances:  negligent maintenance, defective design, and debris left in walking areas, just to name a few. In these types of cases, sometimes referred to as slip and fall or trip and fall accidents, an injured person can potentially recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages if he or she is able to make out a successful case of negligence against the property owner.

Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done, since the property owner’s insurance company will often fight tooth and nail to avoid paying a claim, even when serious injuries have resulted. As with other negligence lawsuits, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show each element of the case by a preponderance of the evidence.

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Business owners are supposed to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. This includes performing necessary maintenance, regularly inspecting the property for dangers, and taking other, related steps to keep patrons from being injured.

If a property owner or business operator breaches the duty of care owed to a patron, he or she can be held liable for any resulting damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Of course, the burden of proof is on the customer to show the business’ breach of duty, and making out a prima facie case can sometimes be difficult.

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While negligence law generally serves to hold those who owe and breach a duty of care to others responsible for any resulting harm proximately caused by the breached duty, this is not always so for governmental entities such as cities, towns, and states.

Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity (sometimes expressed as “rex non potest peccare,” which means “the king can do no wrong”), the government cannot be held liable in suit unless it consents to be sued. This is typically done via statute and often comes with “strings” in the form of special requirements and rules that are inapplicable to negligence lawsuits filed against individuals or businesses.

In the case of Murray v. Town of Hudson, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts transferred a municipal liability case from the Appeals Court to review a lower court’s dismissal of the claim on summary judgment.

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You may already be aware that certain filing deadlines, called statutes of limitations, limit the time that an injured person has to file suit against the responsible party. What you may not know is that there are other time limits that must be complied with in certain situations, and the failure to comply with such rules can be just as fatal to an otherwise legitimate claim as the failure to file within the time allowed by the statute of limitation.

For example, in lawsuits against public entities such as cities and towns, a plaintiff is required to meet the presentment requirements set forth in the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act within two years, even though the general statute of limitations for personal injury claims is three years.

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