Appeals Court of Massachusetts Reviews What is a Necessary Piece of Safety Equipment

In a Massachusetts unpublished appellate case, Silva v. The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, LLC, the Appeals Court considered the question of what is necessary for a safe working environment. A merchandiser of a vending company injured herself while working with product displays. Part of her duties required her to remove and replace shelves and then restock with products. To do so, the merchandiser had to lift and carry materials weighing up to 35 pounds. On the date of the accident, the freight elevator was not working, and the merchandiser had to use the stairs when she transported shelves to and from the storage area. On the fourth or fifth trip, she felt a pop in her back and then severe pain.

In negligence cases, there is a discussion of whether or not someone or a company owed the injured party a duty for a safe product or environment. A trial or appellate court can rule that the person or entity alleged to have caused the injury owed no duty to the injured party, removing the liability to pay damages. In Silva, the injured merchandiser agreed that the store did not have a duty to provide elevator service, but it did have a duty to provide a working freight elevator as part of a safe working environment with the necessary safety equipment. The merchandiser also argued that elevator safety regulations required the store to provide elevator service.

The Appeals Court addressed the first argument in two parts. First, the court stated that case law has not included a freight elevator as a necessary piece of safety equipment. Chapter 149, Sec. 6 of the Massachusetts General Laws establishes the need for places of employment to provide suitable safety devices for accident prevention, as determined by Commonwealth agencies. Other sections of Ch. 149 provide specific requirements for confined spaces, power transmission equipment, and dangerous undertakings, but they do not include requirements for elevators. Without the requirement to provide elevators as safety equipment, the injured merchandiser lacked the ability to show the store had a duty to her to provide a safe environment in which to work.

The Appeals Court then made the determination that, even if the injured merchandiser established a duty by the store to provide an elevator, the merchandiser failed to show a connection between the absence of an elevator and her injury. This connection is also essential to meet an element necessary in personal injury suits, where it is shown that the failure to uphold the duty established by law was the cause of the injury. Typically, this is achieved by providing medical evidence and qualified experts who could show the court or fact-finder the link between the negligence and the injury. The Appeals Court ultimately declined to overturn the summary judgment in favor of the store, based on the failure to show that the store owed a duty under any state regulation or requirement.

In a Massachusetts personal injury case, it is essential to have experienced counsel who understand the law and will aggressively seek the maximum amount of recovery under the law. Our attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan are here to assist you with your negligence suit. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 508.822.6600.

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First Circuit Court of Appeals Assesses Excess Insurer’s Duty to Defend, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, January 27, 2015
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Allows Amendment to Trust to Help Avoid Taxes, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, January 20, 2015