In most circumstances, a person who is harmed by the negligence of another party can seek monetary compensation for medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other damages caused by the act of negligence.
In the case of a public entity defendant, however, there are limitations on, among other things, the maximum amount of money that the injured person can receive in a Massachusetts personal injury lawsuit arising from a governmental unit’s negligence. While this may seem unfair, the idea is that a judgment against “the government” is ultimately borne by the taxpayers. Controlling the maximum amount of a potential payout preserves the public coffers, purportedly inuring to the good of all.
Facts of the Case
The plaintiff in a recent case was a public housing development resident. According to allegations in his complaint, he slipped and fell while navigating the stairs at his unit. He filed a lawsuit against the housing authority, a “controlled affiliate” of the authority, and the managing agent authority, seeking compensation for his injuries. The housing authority and the managing agent sought partial summary judgment, asking the trial court to deem them public employers under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (codified at Massachusetts General Laws ch. 258, § 2) and therefore not liable for damages exceeding $100,000. The trial court judge denied the motion, concluding that the Act “clearly defines the scope of a public employer” and does not include controlled affiliates within that definition.
The Court’s Decision
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted the defendants’ application for direct appellate review. After considering the issues, the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. According to the court, neither the controlled affiliate nor the managing agent could be considered a “public employer” under the Act.
In so holding, the court acknowledged that public employers can be held liable for injuries such as those suffered by the resident if they were caused by the negligence of a public employee while acting within the scope of his or her employment. However, the court noted that, under the Act, public employers are only liable for up to $100,000 in compensatory damages. Although the controlled affiliate and the managing agent argued that they fell under the protection of the Act, the court found that the Act specifically excluded a private contractor like the controlled affiliate.
Need to Talk to an Attorney?
If you have been injured due to a slip and fall accident on a stairwell or elsewhere, you could be entitled to compensation for your injuries. However, unless you file a timely claim, your case will likely be dismissed. The experienced Cape Cod injury attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can help you get started. You should keep in mind that claims involving public entities may have special requirements, including the filing of notice, so seeking counsel as soon as possible is a wise course of action.
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