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Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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Many claims against national corporations are filed in or removed to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. For a federal court to exercise jurisdiction over a case, though, there must be complete diversity between the plaintiff and all named defendants. Thus, in some instances, a defendant will allege that a plaintiff fraudulently joined a defendant that resides in the same jurisdiction as the defendant, simply to keep a case out of federal court. Recently, a Massachusetts district court discussed fraudulent joinder in a product liability case against a car manufacturer and car dealership. If you sustained injuries due to a defective product, you should speak to a seasoned Massachusetts product liability attorney to assess what damages you may be owed.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent was driving her car when it suddenly accelerated, causing her to lose control and crash into a building. The decedent died due to her injuries. The plaintiff subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Massachusetts state court against the defendant auto dealership that sold the car, which had a principal place of business in Massachusetts, and the defendant auto manufacturer that made the car, which had a principal place of business in California, asserting claims of negligence and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. The defendants moved the case to federal court, arguing that the defendant auto dealer was fraudulently joined and that the plaintiff could not maintain claims against the defendant auto dealer. The plaintiff then filed a motion to remand.

Jurisdiction Based on Complete Diversity

Under federal law, a lawsuit that may otherwise be removed to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction may not be removed if any of the parties properly joined as defendants and served by the plaintiff are citizens of the state where the lawsuit was brought. A plaintiff cannot, however, impede a defendant’s right to remove a case by fraudulently joined a defendant that has no true connection to the case but is non-diverse.

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In most cases in which a party alleges harm due to someone else’s negligence, the injured party is required to prove the acts or omissions of the defendant constituted a breach of the duty owed to the plaintiff. In some cases, however, a defendant who is guilty of violating a law may be deemed negligent as a matter of law. Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts discussed the standard for determining whether a person found guilty of violating a criminal statute may be deemed negligent based on the violation. If you or someone you love were injured by someone during the commission of a crime, it is prudent to consult a skillful personal injury attorney to discuss what you can do to protect your interests.

The Underlying Accident

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent was stopped on a bridge because her car had a flat tire. She called for assistance, and while she was waiting, twenty-four vehicles passed her car. The defendant driver, however, struck the rear of the decedent’s car when he was driving a truck over the bridge, which caused the car to burst into flames. The decedent ultimately died due to injuries sustained in the collision. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant and his employer, alleging negligence and gross negligence, as well as wrongful death claims. The parties both filed motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff sought, in part, to have the defendant driver deemed negligent as a matter of law due to the fact that he was convicted of motor vehicle homicide due to negligent operation.

Collateral Estoppel in Civil Cases

Under Massachusetts law, anyone that causes the death of a person by operating a vehicle negligently can be convicted of homicide by a motor vehicle. Specifically, the statute requires the Commonwealth to show that the defendant operated a vehicle on a public road, in a negligent or reckless manner that endangered the lives and safety of other people and subsequently caused the death of another person.

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There are many recreational activities that present a risk of harm, and therefore, many companies that allow people to engage in such activities require participants to sign a waiver. While Massachusetts has routinely ruled that a waiver of the right to sue precludes an individual from pursuing claims for harm until recently, it was unclear whether a waiver also precludes the person’s heirs from pursuing claims, in the event the person dies. Recently, however, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts held that a waiver signed by a person who died while scuba diving was enforceable against the person’s beneficiaries. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you should speak with a trusted Massachusetts wrongful death attorney regarding your potential claims.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff’s decedent drowned while using a dry suit and diving equipment manufactured by the defendant company, during a promotional diving event sponsored by the defendant company. Prior to the event, the decedent signed a release from liability and an equipment rental agreement, which also contained a release of the right to sue the defendant company for death or injuries resulting from the use of the equipment. The plaintiff subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant company and a dive instructor working during the diving event, on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

Reportedly, the defendant company settled with the plaintiff, after which the defendant instructor filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the release agreements signed by the plaintiff’s decedent precluded the plaintiff’s claims. The court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the right of the decedent’s beneficiaries to pursue a wrongful death claim was an independent right that could not be waived.

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When a person dies in a truck accident, the person’s loved ones will often pursue a wrongful death claim against the party that caused the crash. As commercial truck drivers have duties and obligations that go beyond the understanding of the average layperson, in many truck accident cases, the parties will rely on experts to offer testimony regarding whether the truck driver breached the duty of care. There are limits as to what an expert can testify to, however, and as shown in a recent wrongful death case decided by a Massachusetts appellate court, if the expert exceeds his or her permitted scope, his or her testimony may be stricken. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you should consult a skilled Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss what damages you may be able to recover.

Factual and Procedural Background of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent was riding a motorcycle when he was struck by a commercial truck entering the roadway. The truck was driven by the defendant driver and owned by the defendant trucking company. The decedent ultimately died from his injuries, and the personal representative of his estate filed a wrongful death suit against the defendants. Following a trial, a jury found in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff subsequently moved for a new trial, arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in excluding portions of the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony.

Permissible Scope of Expert Testimony

In Massachusetts, a trial court judge has ample discretion regarding what expert testimony he or she admits. Thus, an abuse of discretion will only be found in cases in which, after considering any relevant factors, the judge’s decision is beyond the range of reasonable alternatives and constitutes a clear abuse of discretion.

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Wrongful death claims allow a personal representative of an estate to seek compensation for any pain and suffering their loved one experienced prior to his or her death, as well as medical expenses and loss of the deceased person’s services and income. While it is obvious that a wrongful death claim can only be pursued in the event of a person’s death, it is less clear whether an arbitration agreement entered into by a decedent is binding on the decedent’s personal representative in the pursuit of a wrongful death claim.

The  United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently certified the question of whether an agreement to arbitrate entered into by a person prior to his or her death is binding on the person’s beneficiaries to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). If you suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, it is essential to consult an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney to assist you in pursuing your wrongful death claim.

The Decedent’s Arbitration Agreement

It is reported that the decedent was taken by ambulance to a nursing home run by the plaintiffs. Upon her admission, the defendant, who was the decedent’s daughter, signed multiple documents on behalf of the decedent, including an Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement (the Agreement). The defendant was permitted to sign these documents pursuant to a document executed by the decedent, granting the defendant power of attorney. The Agreement stated that any disputes would be resolved exclusively by mediation, and if mediation was unsuccessful, binding arbitration. The decedent died and the defendant subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the plaintiffs in state court.

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Most personal injury claims assert a theory of liability based on negligence. Parties alleging negligence must prove a duty, a breach of the duty, and causation to recover on their claims. To show causation, a plaintiff must set forth sufficient evidence to show that the harm sustained was a foreseeable result of any alleged breach. In Almeida v. Pinto,  the Court of Appeals found that the tenuous connection between the injuries the plaintiff sustained and the defendant’s breach was insufficient to permit the plaintiff’s case to proceed.  If you suffered injuries due to someone else’s negligence, you should consult a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorney to analyze the facts of your case and whether you should seek damages.

Factual Scenario

Allegedly the defendants hired a contractor to install vinyl siding on the second and third floor of their residence. The defendants paid the contractor $200.00 which was the price suggested by the contractor. The contractor began the installation without a helmet, harness, or any other safety equipment. He fell from a ladder and struck his head and ultimately passed away from his injuries. The plaintiff, who was the administrator of the contractor’s estate, subsequently filed a lawsuit against the defendants, alleging their negligence led to the contractor’s death. The defendants moved for summary judgment, and the court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed, and the appellate court affirmed.

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If you seek to pursue compensation for personal injuries caused by someone else’s negligence, it is essential to retain an attorney that can identify all parties that may be responsible for your harm and set forth all possible theories of liability, as the failure to do so can be fatal to your claim. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts recently held in Williams v. Steward Health Care System, that a hospital could not be held directly liable for harm caused by a psychiatric patient that was released by his treating physician. While the court noted that it was possible for the hospital to be liable under a theory of vicarious liability, plaintiff did not assert that cause of action. If you suffered injuries due to someone else’s negligence, you should consult with an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss the facts of your case and your options for recovering damages.

Factual Background   

Allegedly, in Williams, the assailant fatally stabbed his neighbor. The assailant had been a patient at the hospital under multiple court orders. The orders directed he was to be committed to the hospital due to mental illness until there was no longer a danger of serious harm due to his illness, for up to six months. The assailant was admitted for twenty-one days, after which the doctor treating the assailant purportedly determined he no longer posed a risk of harm due to his mental illness and discharged the assailant. Approximately three weeks after his release the assailant allegedly broke into his neighbor’s apartment and fatally wounded her.

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Many people avoid thinking about what will happen to their property and assets after their death, and ultimately die without a will to determine how their estate will be disbursed. Family members of an individual who dies intestate may not see the necessity in determining how the estate should be divided and may delay in taking any action to raise an estate and appoint a personal representative. The failure to take prompt action when a person passes away can have a damaging effect on your ability to control the estate’s assets, however. A recent Massachusetts estate planning decision held that you waive certain rights if you do not act in a timely manner.

In Bennett v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Superior Court of Massachusetts defined what rights a limited personal representative has with regards to a decedent’s estate.  Specifically, the court addressed whether a personal representative who is granted limited authority under the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) has standing to pursue tort actions that are an asset of the decedent’s estate. In Bennet, the Plaintiff’s father died on March 7, 2014. Section 3-108 of the UPC provides that no testacy or appointment proceeding may take place more than three years after a decedent’s death. If no personal representative has been appointed within three years of a decedent’s death, section 3-108(4) of the UPC allows for a personal representative to be named, but only for the limited purpose of determining successors to the estate. Section 3-108(4) specifically states, however, the representative does not have the right to possess any estate assets. Plaintiff was appointed the limited representative of the estate, pursuant to section 3-108(4), on July 26, 2017.

Plaintiff subsequently brought claims of wrongful death and civil conspiracy against the Defendant, as the limited personal representative of the estate of her deceased father.  The Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint, arguing the Plaintiff’s appointment as a personal representative of the estate under section 3-108(4) of the UPC did not grant her the authority to pursue a wrongful death claim or any tort claim that belonged to the decedent and became a part of the decedent’s estate upon his death.

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The Commonwealth’s Supreme Court reviewed a new issue recently in a Massachusetts wrongful death law suit.  The legal question was whether a pharmacy was required by law to notify the prescribing physician after the patient’s health insurer advises the pharmacy that it needs a “prior authorization form” filled out by the physician.  The decedent was prescribed Topamax to treat her epilepsy.  The medication controlled her life-threatening seizures.  Her insurer paid for this prescription twice in the months before her nineteenth birthday, but refused to do so afterward because it did not have a prior authorization form for an insured who is older than eighteen.  The woman’s family made multiple attempts to obtain the medication, but the pharmacy refused to fill it.  The family could not afford the medication without insurance and the woman died from a fatal seizure that year.

The woman’s mother and executor brought an action for wrongful death and punitive damages against the pharmacy, her daughter’s neurologist, and the neurological practice.  The mother testified at trial that the pharmacy repeatedly told her daughter and other family members the pharmacy would notify her doctor about the need for prior authorization, but the physician and his practice denied receiving notice.  The trial court granted the pharmacy’s motion for the summary judgment on the legal basis that the pharmacy had no legal duty to the decedent to notify her doctor and the practice about the need for prior authorization.

Prior authorization was required by MassHealth to establish the medical effectiveness and necessity of the medicine.  This was to ensure there were no other cost-effective options to use, or generic drugs.  The form was two pages long and took less than ten minutes to complete. It provided information about the diagnosis, the prescribed medication, basic patient  information ,the doctor’s information, and the prescriber’s signature.  The form was accepted only by the prescribing physician.  Pharmacies and patients were not allowed to complete the form.  The insurer only told the pharmacy because it was the pharmacy that submitted the claim for coverage. 

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The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently determined there was no special relationship between a university and its student that would create a duty for the university to take action to prevent his suicide.  Without an obligation to act, the university was not liable for the student’s death.  In this Massachusetts wrongful death case (SJC-12329), the Supreme Court acknowledged that a special relationship could be formed between a university and its student, but it wasn’t present here.

This case originated with a graduate student who lived off campus.  He struggled taking tests and sought help from the program coordinator.  The coordinator referred him to the school’s disability services, but the student declined to use the disability accommodations.  Notes of the meeting between the disability coordinator and the student show he declined to connect with the school’s medical division, believing it would not help.  The student was also referred to the university’s mental health services, where he also turned down assistance.  The student denied suicidal ideation. 

Later, the student admitted he had long suffered from depression and had made two prior suicide attempts in college.  The student denied having any active thoughts of suicide.  The student agreed to return at the beginning of the school year to address his test-taking issues and mental health.  However, during the summer, he expressed frustration at the course of action taken by the university with referrals to mental health services.  The student relayed to school officials he was actively under the care of a psychiatrist.  When he returned to school, he again acknowledged he had been treated for depression by a private physician.  After additional meetings, the school reached out to the private physician, who accepted the information provided and expressed concern without formally acknowledging he was treating the student. 

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