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Understanding Foreseeable Harm In a Massachusetts Negligence Suit

The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently found for an injured woman and her husband after she was sexually violated by an interpreter employed by a hospital. In Doe vs. Boston Medical Center Corp. (13-P-1998), a woman appealed the summary judgment issued by the trial court in favor of the hospital. The trial court granted the judgment, reasoning that the harm was not foreseeable and therefore the hospital carried no duty or liability to the injured woman and her affected family.

In all negligence actions, certain elements must be met in order for a suit to proceed. The at-fault party must owe a duty to the injured person, or a responsibility to behave or maintain themselves or their premises according to established standards. If the at-fault party, or defendant, fails to do so, and an injury results, they are liable for the damages associated with that injury. 1342025_63300207.jpgIn considering whether a duty is owed, certain harms must be considered “foreseeable.” For example, if a hole forms in front of an entranceway from construction or weather in front of a storefront, it is foreseeable that someone entering the store could fall into the hole and harm themselves. It is therefore the store owner’s or manager’s responsibility to keep the premises safe and fill the hole.

In Doe, the hospital had performed a background check on the interpreter, which came back with no prior criminal history. This fact weighed heavily in the trial judge’s conclusion that the interpreter’s assault was not foreseeable, and the hospital could not be held liable for his actions. The woman was inappropriately touched by the interpreter after she was checked by several doctors and staff who exited the room, leaving her alone in the hospital bed attached to medical equipment. The interpreter also left the room with the staff but stayed behind outside her door. Since the door was unlocked, the interpreter came back into the room and claimed he needed to perform a physical exam, touching her abdomen and vagina. He left but stayed outside the room again until a nurse found him and made him leave. Soon after he left, another sexual assault was reported by a different patient in a different area of the hospital, indicating that the same interpreter was involved.

The Massachusetts appeals court looked to the hospital’s policies for employed interpreters. The hospital prohibited the interpreter from having any isolated contact with a patient outside interpreting, and it didn’t allow the interpreter to physically touch any patients. The appeals court based its reversal on this policy, reasoning that it was highly foreseeable to the hospital that an injury would occur, since this was reflected in the policy. The appeals court also felt that the fact that patients were left alone in unmonitored, unlocked rooms added to the foreseeability of harm to patients in their vulnerable state.

The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at Karsner & Meehan have the experience you need to aggressively pursue the damages you deserve. Our knowledgable lawyers understand it can be overwhelming to wade through the civil court system after a traumatic experience, and we are here to help find the financial recovery you need to be whole again. For a free consultation, contact our office at 508.822.6600.

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U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals Reviews Massachusetts Home Renovation Injury, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, August 21, 2015
Massachusetts Appellate Medical Malpractice Case Expands Injureds’ Ability To File Suit, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, August 12, 2015