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Massachusetts Tort Claims Act Protects Transportation Authority from Claim Arising from Discretionary Function

When a Cape Cod personal injury lawsuit is filed against a defendant that is a governmental entity, there is often a defense that the entity is immune from suit based on the principles of governmental tort immunity. Of course, this defense is not always successful, as there are many situations in which the government can be sued, and a judgment can be entered. Resolution of the issue of whether or not immunity applies is typically handled by motion practice in the trial court, sometimes with interlocutory review by the appellate court if an appeal is filed by the party aggrieved by the trial court’s decision.

Facts of the Case

In a recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case (unreported), the plaintiff was a man who suffered a closed head injury and bilateral leg amputations after falling onto subway tracks (owned and maintained by the defendant transportation authority) and being struck by a train. He filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, averring that the defendant was negligent in failing to adequately staff the station with a safety inspector or a customer service agent (CSA) on the day the accident occurred.

The defendant sought summary judgment, arguing (among other things) that it was immune from liability for the plaintiff’s failure-to-staff claim, citing the discretionary function exception contained in Massachusetts General Laws ch. 258, § 10(b). The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant filed an interlocutory appeal of the denial of its motion under the doctrine of present execution.

The Court’s Ruling

The appeals court decided that the defendant was immune from liability on the plaintiff’s claim that it failed to staff the station with sufficient personnel. Reviewing the trial court judge’s decision de novo, the court noted that, under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, a “public employer” such as the defendant was immune from claims based on its exercise or performance (or its failure to perform) a discretionary duty or function. In deciding whether the situation at hand presented a discretionary function, the court determined that the applicable inquiry was whether the defendant had any discretion as to what course of conduct to follow under the circumstances.

After determining that the question of whether to staff a CSA or safety inspector at the station on the day of the accident was discretionary because there was no statute, regulation, or established agency practice actually requiring the defendant to do so, the court went on to hold that, as a matter of law, the defendant had discretion over whether and how to allocate CSAs and safety inspectors to its stations and, thus, § 10(b) immunity applied. Accordingly, the trial court should have granted summary judgment to the defendant as to the plaintiff’s theory regarding insufficient personnel.

Have Questions for a Massachusetts Injury Lawyer?

The negligence of governmental entities, corporations, and individuals can cause serious harm and lifelong injuries to others. If you need to talk to an experienced Cape Cod personal injury and wrongful death lawyer about a recent accident, please contact the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, at 888-262-6664 and schedule a free case evaluation. We handle many types of accident cases, including car and truck wrecks, slip and fall and premises liability cases, and product liability accidents. We also handle medical malpractice, nursing home negligence, and dog bite cases.