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Massachusetts Appeals Court Agrees with Lower Tribunal That Moving Company Could Not Be Held Liable for Employee’s After-Hours Sexual Assault on Non-Customer

There are four things that must be proven in a Cape Cod negligence case: duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation. “Duty” means that the plaintiff has to show that the defendant had an obligation to either act in a certain manner or refrain from acting in a particular way. “Breach of duty” occurs when the defendant failed to perform the action(s) required by the duty he or she had to the plaintiff or when the plaintiff performed an action that he or she should not have, given the duty. For example, drivers owe one another a duty to keep a proper lookout while driving. If a driver is looking down to read a text, he or she has likely breached this duty. If you’ve been injured and believe another person may be responsible, discussing the details of the incident with a Cape Cod personal injury lawyer is a good idea.

Not every breach of duty results in a finding of liability, however. This is because there must also be proof of damages (such as physical injury) and proximate causation. The question of proximate causation is more than a simple “someone breached a duty and someone else got hurt” proposition. Rather, the harm that befell the plaintiff must have been a foreseeable result of the breach of duty.

Sometimes, a defendant may have blatantly breached a duty of some sort but still not be held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries. This is because, in the court’s view (or in the jury’s view, if the case proceeds to trial) the harm that resulted was beyond that which a reasonable person would have foreseen at the time that the defendant acted (or failed to act).

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the primary plaintiff was a woman who alleged that she was beaten and sexually assaulted by the defendant moving company’s employee in 2011. The woman, who was joined in the suit by her husband, filed suit against the moving company, the employee, and a second moving company with whom the first moving company may have had some contractual agreement that created an agency relationship between the two companies. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the employee had and extensive criminal history, as well as a history of substance abuse.

The plaintiffs’ suit asserted personal injury and loss of consortium claims against the defendants, based on several legal theories of liability, including respondeat superior (based the companies’ liability for the actions of their employee); negligent hiring, retention, and supervision; and violation of the consumer protections set forth in Massachusetts General Laws ch. 93A. The companies filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. The plaintiffs appealed.

Holding of the Appellate Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s order granting summary judgment to the defendants. In ruling in the defendants’ favor, the lower court had ruled that the plaintiffs’ injuries were not foreseeable because there was no nexus between the attack and the employment relationship between the moving companies and the employee who attacked the plaintiff. The lower court also held that the defendant companies did not owe any legal duty to the plaintiffs and that the facts were inadequate to raise a triable issue of proximate causation.

On review, the appellate court agreed that the plaintiffs’ negligence claims failed. Even though the reviewing court found that one of the companies had violated its own policies in failing to conduct a background check on the employee, the court found that this was “too attenuated from the harms suffered” by the plaintiffs to form the basis for liability under Massachusetts law. The court went on to discuss the issue of proximate causation, explaining that a defendant in a negligence case could only be held liable in situations in which the harm to the victim was foreseeable, given the breach of duty by the defendant. Insomuch as the employee’s criminal acts were committed while he was off duty – and were done to a victim with whom the defendant companies held no commercial relationship – the foreseeability of the employee’s actions were not sufficient to hold the defendant companies liable for their alleged negligence in failing to investigate the employee before hiring him. Thus, summary judgment to the defendants was appropriate in the appeals court’s view.

Talk to a Cape Cod Attorney

When a business or individual’s breach of duty results in foreseeable harm, the victim of the accident or other wrongdoing has the right to seek money damages in a court of law. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your Cape Cod personal injury case, contact The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III via this website or by calling 888-262-6664.

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