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Massachusetts Court of Appeals Grants Summary Judgment to Housing Project Operators in Negligence Action Arising from Drive-By Shooting

In a Massachusetts negligence action seeking compensation for personal injuries or a loved one’s wrongful death, the plaintiff must prove several things in order to prevail at trial. First and foremost, the plaintiff must be able to show that a duty existed between him or her and the defendant.

If the plaintiff can show that the defendant breached this duty and that, as a proximate result, he or she suffered damages, he or she may be able to recover payment for medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other associated expenses.

However, if the court does not agree that a duty of some sort existed between the parties, the plaintiff’s case will fail.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the original plaintiff was a woman who was shot by unknown assailants during a drive-by shooting in June 2013. At the time of the incident, the woman was reportedly sitting on a parked motor scooter on a public sidewalk adjacent to a housing development. The woman filed a negligence action against the operators of the housing development, asserting that they had caused her injuries by failing to provide adequate security or to warn her about the dangers in the area. After the original plaintiff (who was paralyzed by her injuries) died from complications associated with the event in question, the personal representative of her estate was substituted as the plaintiff.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, holding that, as a matter of law, the defendants did not owe the duties asserted by the plaintiff under the circumstances presented in the case.

Decision of the Court

The appellate court began by pointing out that the plaintiff had to first establish that the defendants owed a duty of reasonable care, if the case was to reach it past the summary judgment phase of litigation. Noting that the question of whether a duty exists was a question of law – not a question of fact reserved for the jury – the appeals court stated that issues of duty were to be resolved by reference to existing social values, customs, and policy. While property owners have a general duty under the common law to treat all persons legally on their premises with reasonable care, the court noted that this duty does not necessarily extend to protecting those who come upon the landowner or business operator’s property from criminal actions taken by third parties. According to the court, this type of duty exists only when there is a “special relationship” between the injured person and the landowner.

Here, the original plaintiff was not a resident of the housing development operated by the defendants, so there was no relationship – much less a “special one” – between the parties. Furthermore, the court of appeals pointed out that, at no time relevant to the litigation, was the original plaintiff actually on the defendant’s property. Insomuch as the original plaintiff was a member of the public using a public way owned by a city (that was not party to the litigation), the negligence claim against the defendants failed.

Experienced Cape Cod Injury Attorney

While this particular case was unsuccessful, each personal injury accident is evaluated on its own merits. For a free case evaluation by a knowledgeable Massachusetts negligent security injury lawyer, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, at 888-262-6664 today.