Generally speaking, in a Massachusetts personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, it is the jury’s job to determine not only which party was at fault but also the amount of damages to which the plaintiff is entitled if the defendant is determined to have been negligent.
That having been said, it is important to note that the trial court judge may override the jury’s decision on damages in some cases. Such an action is the exception rather than the rule, however, and it is subject to review by the appellate court if either party challenges the ruling.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case, the plaintiff was the executor of the estate of a woman who was killed when a speeding sport utility vehicle struck her as she was walking into a convenience store. After hitting the woman, the SUV continued on and crashed through the facade of the store. The executor’s lawsuit was brought under Massachusetts General Law ch. 229, § 2 and alleged that the defendant storeowner’s negligence and gross negligence had caused the decedent’s death. In support of these claims, the plaintiff alleged that hundreds of “car strikes” had occurred at convenience stores owned by the defendant and that the defendant could have prevented the decedent’s death by installing bollards or other protective barriers.
The case was tried to a jury, which found for the plaintiff and awarded $32,369,024 in compensatory damages, plus $10 in punitive damages. The plaintiff waived the punitive damages award, and the trial court issued an order granting a new trial on the issue of damages unless the plaintiff accepted a reduced compensatory damages award of $20 million. The plaintiff accepted the award, and the parties filed cross appeals.
Decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s judgment amending the plaintiff’s compensatory damages award to $20 million. In so holding, the court noted that, as early as 1988, the defendant had been aware that car strikes were happening at their various stores as frequently as one store per week, and an employee had expressed concern that bodily injury would eventually occur. As predicted, several car strikes did later injure or kill customers at the defendants’ stores. This eventually led to a proposal to install bollards along the walkways of some of the stores. However, only stores that had suffered at least two car strikes previously or were one of the highest revenue-generating stores qualified for the bollards, and the store at which the decedent was killed did not qualify.
The defendant urged the appellate court to rule that it was an error for the lower tribunal to admit evidence of prior car strikes at its stores, but the appellate court held that the previous 485 car strikes were relevant to the jury’s consideration of whether the risk of harm to the decedent was foreseeable. With regard to the remittitur entered by the trial court judge, the appeals court noted that it is “exceedingly rare” for a remittitur to be set aside on appeal as an abuse of discretion and went on to state that, “This is not one of those exceedingly rare cases.”
Contact a Massachusetts Wrongful Death Attorney
The Cape Cod wrongful death attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, will be glad to talk to you if you have recently lost a loved one due to another party’s negligence or recklessness. For a free consultation, call us at 888-262-6664. We serve all of Hyannis, Plymouth, and the surrounding areas of Cape Cod. Nos falamos Portugues!
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