Appeals Court of Massachusetts Holds That Failure to Object to Improper Jury Instruction Regarding Negligence Precludes Appeal

Under Massachusetts personal injury law, to recover from a negligence claim you must show that the defendant breached a duty of care owed to you and that the breach caused you to suffer injuries. It is important to understand what must be proven in order to establish negligence, because a failure to prove the elements of negligence can affect your right to recover. In Caruso v. Catone, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently held that Plaintiff’s attorney waived the right to argue the judge gave improper instructions to the jury regarding breach of duty and causation, which ultimately resulted in a defense verdict.

In Caruso, plaintiff and defendant were involved in an accident in which defendant struck plaintiff with his car. Plaintiff sued defendant for negligence. Following a trial, a jury determined Plaintiff had not established the element of negligence and denied plaintiff the right to recover damages. Plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, which the court denied. Plaintiff then appealed to the Appeals Court of Massachusetts, which affirmed the lower court ruling. On appeal, plaintiff argued that defendant’s testimony at trial constituted an admission that he breached the duty of care. Specifically, defendant, who hit plaintiff when he was making a left turn, testified that he was looking right prior to the turn, even though he was driving toward the left. Further, defendant agreed with plaintiff’s counsel that he was not looking in the direction he was driving at the time of impact. Plaintiff believed defendant’s behavior constituted negligence as a matter of law.

The court found, however, that it was not necessary to address the issue of whether defendant acted negligently, due to the fact that the judge improperly addressed the jury on the issue of negligence. Specifically, in instructing the jury on the elements of negligence the judge conflated the elements of breach and causation and erroneously advised the jury that to find defendant negligent they must find that he breached the duty of care and that the breach was the cause of the accident. The court noted this was not a proper instruction under Massachusetts law, which requires breach and causation to be separate elements of negligence. As plaintiff’s attorney did not object to the instruction he waived the right to argue the issue on appeal. The court stated that due to the improper instruction the jury’s verdict may mean the jury found that the defendant drove negligently, but the accident may have occurred even if he was driving appropriately. The court noted, however, the record reflected that the accident would have occurred regardless, due to other facts regarding the incident.

In pursuing any claim it is important to be represented by a seasoned attorney who understands what is necessary to win your case. Negligence claims may seem straightforward but are often complicated. The personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan are thoroughly versed in the elements of negligence and can skillfully assess the facts of your claim to ensure your case is presented in a manner that affords you your best chance for a favorable outcome. Our attorneys will vigorously pursue the damages you are rightfully owed. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 508-822-6600.

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