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Massachusetts Tort Claims Act Construed to Include Electric Company as “Public Employer”

Electricity is one of those things to which most of us give little thought – until something goes wrong. Unfortunately, things can sometimes go very wrong when a power company acts negligently, sometimes triggering a Massachusetts personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

Governmental tort liability, including the possibility of immunity from suit, can be an important factor in such cases, depending upon the particular defendant that is being sued. Such cases must be handled with the utmost care, since a procedural mistake can result in a finding that the governmental entity is not liable for the plaintiff’s harm, even when obvious negligence occurred.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in a recent case were a man and woman who alleged that they were injured when a ladder that they came near came into contact with an arcing electrical current and that this was due to an improperly grounded line maintained by the defendant electric company. The plaintiffs filed suit against the defendant in 2016, alleging a case of negligence. The defendant moved for the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims on the ground that they had failed to make a proper presentment of their claims, pursuant to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 258, § 4. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and it appealed.

How the Appeals Court Decided the Case

The Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated the lower court’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings. In denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the court below held that the defendant was a commercial business, rather than a public employer, and that, therefore, the Act did not apply. The appeals court, however, disagreed, holding that the defendant was a public employer. According to the court of appeals, it could not read language purporting to exclude “other independent bodies” to override the specific inclusion of “municipal gas or electric plants” (such as the defendant) in construing the term “public employer.” In so holding, the court pointed to the familiar rule of statutory construction that when two statutes conflict, the more specific provision usually controls over a more general rule.

The appeals court did not reach the issue of whether the presentment requirement of the Act had been satisfied through certain correspondence between the plaintiffs’ counsel and the defendant’s representatives. That issue was to be decided on remand by the lower court.

Experienced Attorney Serving the Injured on Cape Cod

At the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, our experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorneys handle a wide range of premises liability claims across the Cape Cod area. Since we understand that those who have been hurt due to others’ negligence are often left in a difficult financial state due to medical bills and lost income, we offer a free case evaluation and accept many cases on a contingency fee contract (you pay our fee when the case is over, and only if we win). For an appointment at our Plymouth or Hyannis offices, call us now at 888-262-6664,

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