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Federal Court Dismisses Massachusetts Wrongful Death Lawsuit Due to Defective Service of Process

Those who have lost a loved one to the negligence of another person, a business, or a governmental entity should be aware that there is a finite amount of time for filing a Massachusetts wrongful death claim. Not only does the plaintiff’s lawsuit need to be filed by a certain date, he or she also has a limited amount of time in which to serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint.

While there are a few, very limited exceptions to the requirements of the statute of limitations and service of process rules for such claims, almost all untimely claims are dismissed by the courts.

Thus, it is important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible if you believe that your loved one died due to another’s negligence.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a man who died from a work-related injury in November 2014. The plaintiff filed a negligence and wrongful death complaint against the defendant in September 2017, asserting that the accident was caused by a machine that was owned and “superintended” by the defendant company. The plaintiff’s complaint was originally filed in state court, but the defendant removed the action to federal court (presumably based on diversity jurisdiction).

Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, asking the federal district court to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit based on insufficient service of process. According to the defendant, the plaintiff had mailed a certified copy of her summons and complaint to the corporation, but this service was invalid because Massachusetts law required that a corporate defendant be served through its president, treasurer, clerk, resident agent, cashier, secretary, agent, other officer, or member of the corporation. The plaintiff sought to extend the time to perfect service. The district court denied the plaintiff’s motion for an extension of time and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss due to the plaintiff’s failure to properly serve the defendant with process within 90 days as required by Massachusetts law.

Decision of the Court

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The court first noted that a dismissal for insufficient service of process was reviewed only for an abuse of discretion by the lower court. Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 4(j) required the plaintiff to effect service of process within 90 days of filing her complaint. While failure to meet this deadline can be excused for “good cause,” the appellate court found no merit to the plaintiff’s contention that she had met this threshold by showing that the defendant had evaded service.

In so holding, the court pointed out that the defendant had not “evaded service” (as claimed by the plaintiff) because it had maintained a registered agent in the state of Massachusetts to receive service during the relevant time. The fact that the plaintiff had chosen not to utilize this agent did not change the situation. The court also pointed out that the defendant had not concealed the defect in service and, even if it had, it had no duty to notify the plaintiff of the defective service.

Contact a Massachusetts Product Injury Lawyer

As this case shows, time is of the essence when it comes to wrongful death lawsuits. If you have lost a loved one due to another’s negligent or reckless conduct, you should speak to an attorney about your case as soon as possible. At the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, we help residents of Hyannis, Plymouth, and the surrounding area in their quest to hold negligent individuals, businesses, and governmental entitles liable for their actions. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced Cape Cod wrongful death attorney, call us at 888-262-6664.