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Massachusetts Court of Appeals Denies Motion to Set Aside Judgment in Negligence Case

Timeliness is extremely important in a Cape Cod personal injury lawsuit. First of all, a potential litigant has only a limited amount of time in which to assert his or her claim; generally speaking, a claim is barred if it is not filed within the period established by the statute of limitations (although there are a few, very limited exceptions).

Additionally, once litigation has begun, there are more deadlines, including time limits on responding to an opposing party’s discovery requests (such as interrogatories, which are written questions from one party to the other seeking more information about the claim).

When a party fails to meet the deadlines that have been established by the applicable court rules – or by the trial court judge, if a scheduling order has been entered – he or she risks dismissal of a claim that, if successful on its merits, could have yielded valuable compensation for medical costs, lost pay, and pain and suffering caused by another’s carelessness.

Facts of the Case

In a recent (unreported) case, the plaintiff was a woman who alleged that she had been hurt due to the defendant’s negligence. The plaintiff filed a complaint, seeking monetary compensation for her personal injuries. About a month after the plaintiff’s complaint was filed, the defendant filed an answer; the defendant sent interrogatories to the plaintiff about six weeks thereafter. When, after approximately two and one-half months, the plaintiff had not responded to the defendant’s interrogatories, the defendant served a “final request” pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 33(a)(3).

Although some additional communications took place between the plaintiff’s and defendant’s attorneys regarding completion of the interrogatories, the interrogatories were never actually completed, and, eventually, the defendant filed an application for a final judgment under Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 33(a)(4) (with a supporting affidavit) about 8 1/2 months after the plaintiff’s complaint was filed. The trial court entered judgment as sought by the defendant about a month later. The plaintiff did not make a timely appeal from the final judgment; rather, she filed a motion to remove the “default,” but this motion was denied.

Decision of the Court

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower tribunal’s ruling. The court began its discussion by pointing out that the denial of the plaintiff’s motion to “remove the default” was to be evaluated based upon an abuse of discretion standard. In other words, did the trial court judge make a clear error of judgment in weighing the factors relevant to the decision from which the plaintiff appealed? In answering that question in the negative, the court noted that the plaintiff had “never — at any point — submitted her answers to the defendant’s interrogatories.”

Although the plaintiff attempted to explain her failings as mistake or excusable neglect, the appellate court rejected these arguments, as well as the plaintiff’s contentions regarding the alleged fraud, misrepresentation, and/or misconduct of the defendant’s attorney.

To Seek Advice from a Cape Cod Injury Attorney

If you have been hurt in an accident, you need to take legal action as soon as possible. At The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, we help those who have been hurt in car accidents, by acts of medical malpractice, in slip and fall accidents, and in incidents involving defective products. We also handle wrongful death claims on behalf of those who have lost a family member due to the negligence of another person, a business, or a branch of the government. To get a free case evaluation concerning your potential claim, call 888-262-6664 today.