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Massachusetts Court Holds That 30-Day Notice Requirement for Claims Involving Defect in Public Roadway Does Not Apply to Claims Against Private Parties

Under Massachusetts law, those who are injured or lose a loved one due to another’s negligence have a limited amount of time in which to file a Cape Cod personal injury claim against the responsible party.

It is important to note that certain situations, such as cases involving a governmental entity, can result in much shorter deadlines, sometimes only a matter of days, than the general statute of limitations would suggest.

When a claim is not timely filed, the injured person will, most likely, be deemed to have waived his or her right to recover money damages.

Facts of the Case

In a recent (unreported) case, the plaintiffs allegedly suffered personal injuries and loss of consortium as a result of an accident caused by the defendant gas company. The plaintiffs filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant, seeking to recover compensation for their damages. The case proceeded to trial. At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant filed a motion for a directed verdict, asserting that the plaintiffs could not recover money damages due to their failure to comply with the 30-day notice provision set forth at Massachusetts General Laws ch. 84, § 18. The trial court judge granted the motion and entered judgment for the defendants. The plaintiffs appealed.

The intermediate court of appeals affirmed, and the plaintiffs sought further review from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. While their case was pending, the supreme court ruled in another case with a similar issue, overruling a previous series of decisions by the intermediate appellate court on the issue of whether suits against private corporations based on defects in public roads required that notice be given within 30 days. Accordingly, the supreme court remanded the case to the intermediate court of appeals for further action consistent with the supreme court’s decision.

Decision of the Court

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict, vacated the lower court’s judgment in favor of the defendant, and remanded the case for further proceedings. According to the court of appeals, the supreme court’s holding that plaintiffs who allege tort claims against a defendant like the gas company were not required to comply with the 30-day notice requirement for suits against public entities; thus, the plaintiffs’ suit should not have been dismissed on this ground.

In so holding, the court acknowledged language in the supreme court’s opinion to the effect that the word “person,” as used in the statute at issue, did not refer to private parties. While the statute is the exclusive remedy for claims against governmental parties, claims against private parties who are responsible for road defects “sound in tort and are not subject to the road defect statute or the 30-day notice requirement.”

Speak to a Massachusetts Injury Attorney in the Cape Cod Area

Defects in public roads can cause many problems, including car accidents, slip and fall accidents, and other events resulting in personal injury or wrongful death. If you need advice about a claim involving a public roadway, please contact the experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III at 888-262-6664. As this case illustrates, contacting an attorney about a claim as soon as possible is extremely important in cases involving injury or death, especially if there is a chance that a governmental entity may be involved in the case.