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Defendants’ Appeal in Slip and Fall Case Dismissed for Failure to File Required Paperwork Within Time Set by Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure

Hopefully, by now most people know how it important it is to file a claim for damages within the statute of limitations following a Cape Cod accident. However, many individuals may not realize that there can be additional matters of timeliness that must also be complied with, if a case is to be handled as assertively as possible.

One of these important deadlines is the 30-day period for the filing of a notice of appeal following entry of final judgment by a trial court judge. While there are some exceptions to the usual rule, these are few and far between, as the defendants in a recent premises liability lawsuit found out.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who fell while maneuvering a pallet jack from his delivery truck to a loading dock operated by the defendants. According to the plaintiff, his fall aggravated osteoarthritis in hip, requiring him to undergo a total hip replacement. The plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit alleged that the defendants were negligent in failing to maintain the mechanism that bridged the gap between his trailer and their dock, thus causing the accident and his resulting injuries.

The case was tried to a jury, who found that the defendants were liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendants filed a timely motion asking for a new trial or, alternatively, a remittitur. The trial court judge denied the defendants’ motion on February 12, 2018, thus triggering the commencement of the 30-day period set forth for filing an appeal pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a). Unfortunately for the defendants, they did not file a notice of appeal within the 30-day period. Instead, some 8 days after the 30-day deadline, they filed a motion to extend the time to file a notice of appeal. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion, and they eventually filed an appeal on April 2, 2018, which was 49 days after their post-trial motion was denied. The plaintiff filed a cross appeal, challenging the trial court judge’s decision to allow the defendants to file their untimely appeal.

Decision of the Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court dismissed the defendants’ appeal as untimely. Pursuant to Rule 4(a), an appellant in a civil case is required to file a notice of appeal within 30 days of the date that a final judgment is entered (or after an order is entered denying a motion for a new trial). After this deadline has passed, a trial court judge can only allow a motion to file a late notice upon a showing of “excusable neglect.” Reviewing the decision of the lower tribunal for an abuse of judicial discretion, the appellate court found that the defendants had failing to make the requisite showing in the case at bar.

According to the court of appeals, the defendants had purposed to show excusable neglect through the affidavit of an attorney who had been hired as appellate counsel to the effect that he was out of the country at the time the notice was due and that he had a “good faith understanding” that the notice of appeal would be filed by trial counsel. The attorney further explained that trial counsel was apparently unaware of his travel plans and assumed that he would be the one to file the appeal. According to the reviewing court, the situation presented, at best, a type of miscommunication that the court had held in previous cases to be “garden variety oversight” rather than the truly excusable neglect that would be sufficient to warrant an extension of the time for filing an appeal.

Talk to a Lawyer About Your Case

Having effective legal representation through each and every step of your personal injury lawsuit is critically important when it comes to pursuing fair compensation for injuries suffered due to another’s negligence. To schedule an appointment to discuss your accident with an experienced Cape Cod slip and fall lawyer, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, at 888-262-6664. We have offices in Hyannis and Plymouth; we can also visit your hospital room or home, if need be.