Many Massachusetts businesses rent space from another entity to use for their business, along with parking and walkways for customers and employees to use. When a slip and fall injury occurs, liability can stem from either the business or the property owner or both. If another entity were in charge of maintaining the premises, that company may also share in the liability for an injury. As with all personal injury lawsuits, liability exists when a duty is owed by the alleged party responsible for the injury. When more than one defendant is involved, it can be challenging to sort out liability and damages.
An Appeals Court of Massachusetts decision looks at whether or not jury instructions in a a slip-and-fall lawsuit involving two defendants were improper. The injured party argued that the instructions did not accurately reflect the law governing whether the defendants’ conduct was the cause of her harm. She was originally injured in a slip and fall in a parking lot outside a restaurant. The building was leased by the restaurant from the co-defendant company, which was also responsible for the repair and maintenance of the parking lot. The injured woman filed suit against both the restaurant and the property owners. At trial, the jury determined that the restaurant was not negligent. It also found the property owner to be negligent but not a “substantial factor” in causing the customer’s injury. The injured person moved for a new trial, which was denied, leading to this appeal.
In cases involving multiple causes, courts use the “substantial contributing factor” test when it is difficult to ascertain that any of the individual defendants was the main source of the harm – even when you know the defendants’ behavior, as a whole, caused the harm. The judge presiding over the trial applied this test, which was reflected in the jury instructions. In the court’s analysis, the appellate court found that the instruction was proper with two defendants, especially since the plaintiff had a pre-existing condition. The appellate court also disagreed with the injured person that there was not enough evidence for a verdict favoring the defendants.