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Massachusetts Court of Appeals Refuses to Disturb Jury’s Verdict in Wrongful Death Suit

In a Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit, there are likely to be many issues. If the loved one’s death was caused by an act of negligence, some of these issues will include duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

For a plaintiff to be successful on the merits of his or her case, he or she must provide convincing, competent, and legally admissible evidence on each of these issues. Unfortunately, simply offering testimony from witnesses may not be enough, as there are rules of evidence that determine what is, and what is not, legally admissible in court. In some situations, an appellate court may be called upon to determine whether these matters were ruled upon properly during the trial of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of man who died in a car accident. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendants, seeking to recover compensation for the loss of his decedent. The case was tried to a jury. The plaintiff was dissatisfied with the jury’s verdict and filed a motion for a new trial. The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion, and he appealed.

Decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s judgment. On appeal, the plaintiff had two primary arguments: that the trial court judge abused her discretion when she struck a sentence from an expert witness’s testimony and that the verdict had been inconsistent. The reviewing court rejected both of these contentions and found no cause to disturb the trial court’s order denying the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial.

With respect to the expert witness’s testimony, the plaintiff complained that the trial court judge should not have struck a particular sentence from the testimony, but the appeals court noted that a judge’s discretionary decision was only grounds for a reversal if he or she made a clear error of judgment in weighing the relevant factors. Here, the plaintiff’s expert witness opined that the cause of the fatal collision at issue was the defendant driver’s failure to observe the decedent’s motorcycle approaching as he entered the roadway; the trial judge had repeatedly told counsel that testimony of this nature would not be allowed because it went to the ultimate issue of causation, an element that was to be left to the jury to determine. Thus, the judge was within her discretion in striking that part of the witness’s testimony.

As to the inconsistent verdict issue, the court of appeals first noted that a party had an obligation to object to any allegedly inconsistent answers to special questions before the jury was discharged; otherwise, any claim of an error was deemed to be waived. In the case at bar, the plaintiff did not object to the alleged inconsistency prior to the jury being discharged; hence, the court held that he had waived any argument on the issue on appeal.

Speak to a Cape Cod Wrongful Death Lawyer

Processing the trauma of a loved one’s untimely death is never easy. If you have lost a family member in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you should talk to a lawyer about the possibility of filing a Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit seeking compensation for your loved one’s death. To schedule a free consultation, contact the helpful Cape Cod personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, today at 888-262-6664.