While negligence law generally serves to hold those who owe and breach a duty of care to others responsible for any resulting harm proximately caused by the breached duty, this is not always so for governmental entities such as cities, towns, and states.
Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity (sometimes expressed as “rex non potest peccare,” which means “the king can do no wrong”), the government cannot be held liable in suit unless it consents to be sued. This is typically done via statute and often comes with “strings” in the form of special requirements and rules that are inapplicable to negligence lawsuits filed against individuals or businesses.
In the case of Murray v. Town of Hudson, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts transferred a municipal liability case from the Appeals Court to review a lower court’s dismissal of the claim on summary judgment.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was a high school baseball player who, in 2010, attended an interscholastic, varsity baseball game held at a public park owned and maintained by the defendant town. The plaintiff was a member of the “away” team, with the “home” team being the town’s high school. While warming up in the bullpen, the plaintiff badly tore the meniscus in his left knee. Later in 2010, the plaintiff wrote a letter to the town’s board of selectmen, notifying them that he was making a claim against the town and making a demand of $100,000.
The town’s insurer denied the claim, and the plaintiff filed suit, alleging that the town had breached the duty of reasonable care that it owed to the plaintiff and that the town had engaged in reckless conduct in its construction, maintenance, and illumination of the bullpen. The town sought summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Decision on Appeal
The state supreme court reversed and remanded the case to the lower court for trial. According to the court, the town could be held liable for negligence despite the so-called “recreational use statute” because the town’s school had invited the plaintiff’s school to play the game at which the plaintiff was injured. Under such circumstances, the town owed the visiting student-athletes the same duty to provide a reasonably safe playing field that it owed its own students.
The court also concluded that the plaintiff had properly presented his claim to the town and that it could not be determined until trial whether liability was barred under the discretionary function exemption of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act.
To Get Legal Advice about a Negligence Lawsuit
If you believe that you have been the victim of negligence by another person, business, or municipality, you should speak to a lawyer about your claim. To schedule an appointment with a Cape Cod personal injury lawyer, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664. We offer a free initial consultation on your case at either our Hyannis or our Plymouth office. Since there are strict filing deadlines and statutes of limitations that apply to injury cases, please do not delay in seeking legal advice about your case.
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