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Massachusetts Appeals Court Holds that Suicide Victim’s Administratrix Could Purse Claim Against Public Health Commission

Under the common law, the “king could do no wrong” – and hence was not subject to a finding of liability in court for negligent or reckless conduct. In modern times, the concept of sovereign immunity can apply to a government, just as it did to a monarchy. Citizens still do not have the “right” to sue a city, state, or even the federal government under the principles of sovereign immunity.

However, most governmental entities have passed laws that allow themselves to be sued, at least in some circumstances. However, there are almost always limitations on such suits, including those involving a Cape Cod wrongful death claim.

Facts of the Case

In a recent unreported case, the plaintiff was a special administratrix who filed suit against the defendant city public health commission, asserting a cause of action for wrongful death and failure to supervise and/or train employees. According to allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint, the decedent was placed into an ambulance that was under the control of the defendant commission after staff members at an inn called 911 and reported that the decedent was experiencing suicidal thoughts. The defendant reportedly disregarded its usual practice of driving a suicidal patient to the hospital with a police escort; when the defendant’s employees opened the ambulance door, the decedent ran into the street, laid down, and was killed by a motor vehicle moving through traffic.

The plaintiff alleged that, by their actions, the defendant’s employees had removed the decedent from a place of relative safety (where the inn’s staff was looking out for her and securing help for her) and had taken her to a place where no one was apparently willing or able to keep her from taking her own life. Insomuch as the defendant had placed the decedent in a worse position than she was in before their invention, the plaintiff sought wrongful death damages, as well as compensation for the defendant’s failure to train/supervise its workers. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint.

Decision of the Court

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the lower court’s decision insofar as it dismissed the first count of the plaintiff’s complaint but otherwise affirmed the judgment. According to the appellate court, the factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint plausibly suggested that she may be entitled to relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, § 10 (j) (2) on her wrongful death claim. In the view of the appeals court, the defendant’s employees’ “intervention” may have actually placed the decedent in a worse position than she was in beforehand, thus triggering potential liability. The court of appeals further concluded that the defendant’s employees owed a duty of care to the decedent and that the plaintiff’s complaint suggested that the decedent’s suicide was a foreseeable result of the employees’ negligence. Because of this, the court reversed the trial court’s order dismissing the plaintiff’s wrongful death claim against the defendant.

Speak with an Attorney

Losing a loved one is always hard, but it is even more so when the negligence of a business, individual, or governmental entity contributed to the loss of our family member. To learn more about filing a claim for damages following the untimely passing of a spouse, parent, or child, call The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, at 888-262-6664 and schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced Cape Cod wrongful death attorneys. We serve clients in Hyannis, Plymouth, and elsewhere in the Cape Cod region. If coming into our offices for an appointment is difficult for you, we can arrange to visit your home to discuss your case.