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Massachusetts Court Addresses Issue of Whether Lead Inspector Owed Duty of Care to Child Who Lived in Property 20 Years After Inspection

Timeliness can be an important issue in a Cape Cod negligence case. Typically, cases not filed within the applicable statute of limitations and/or statute of repose will be dismissed unless the circumstances fall within some very narrow exception to the general rule.

Sometimes, time can also factor into other issues in a given case, including the determination of whether a duty to a particular plaintiff existed. If the passage of time was such that the defendant did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, then the case will be subject to dismissal.

Facts of the Case

In a recent negligence case considered on appeal, the plaintiff was a minor child, suing through his mother as next friend. The plaintiff’s suit attempted to assert claims for both negligence and violation of Massachusetts Gen. Law ch. 93A against the defendant lead inspector, but the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff case, arguing that the claims were not viable. Although the defendant admitted that he had, in fact, performed a lead inspection on the property at issue, he pointed out that the plaintiff had not become a tenant at the property until some 20 years after the inspection.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (6) after concluding that, as a matter of law, the defendant did not owe a duty to the plaintiff under the circumstances.

Decision of the Appeals Court

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts affirmed the lower court’s entry of judgment for the defendant. The defendant had been hired to perform a lead inspection by the person who owned the property in 1993. At that time, the defendant opined that there were no “dangerous levels of lead” as that term was defined under 105  Code Mass. Regs. § 460.730(A)-(F). In order to prevail in a negligence case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant owed him or her a duty of care and that a breach of this duty was the proximate cause of the damages for which the plaintiff seeks monetary compensation.

Importantly, the question of whether or not a duty existed under the circumstances of a particular case is a question of law. Here, the defendant had a contractual duty to inspect the premises and report an accurate result to the person who owned the property at the time of the inspection back in 1993. Given that the duty was one created by contract, the question then became whether it was reasonably foreseeable that other, nonclient individuals such as the plaintiff would rely on the results of the inspection at some point in the future. Answering the question in the negative, the court concluded that the connection between the plaintiff’s reliance on the inspection and the defendant’s alleged negligence in the performance of his contractual duties to his original client was too remote to establish liability in the instant case.

Learn More About Your Legal Rights

If you or a member of your family has been hurt by someone else’s negligence or carelessness, it is important to understand your legal rights. At the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, we handle a wide variety of personal injury cases, including professional negligence, motor vehicle accidents, premises liability claims, and product liability suits. Contact us through this website or phone us at 888-262-6664 to learn more about how we can help in your case. Please remember that personal injury and wrongful death claims must be timely filed, so do not put off talking to a lawyer about your case.

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