Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

In Massachusetts, people hurt while working will typically seek workers’ compensation benefits. While employees that sustain work-related injuries can generally recover such benefits, different rules apply for land-based and water-based employees. Thus, an employee cannot recover benefits under both sets of rules, as explained in a recent Massachusetts case. If you were hurt at work, it is in your best interest to talk to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney about what steps you can take to protect your interests.

History of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff worked for a shoreside employer in Maine. The employer owned and used a fleet of vessels for marine transportation and construction. The plaintiff suffered an injury on the job and subsequently filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The claim was settled with the understanding that the worker was considered a land-based employee rather than a maritime employee, although this issue was never litigated.

Allegedly, the plaintiff then filed a complaint against the employer, seeking compensation for injuries under the Jones Act and general maritime law for unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure. Alternatively, the worker sought compensation under a section of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), which allows certain land-based maritime workers to bring negligence actions against their employer in its capacity as the vessel owner. The employer filed a motion for summary judgment. Continue reading →

The Massachusetts Workers Compensation Act (the Act) provides that employees injured at work can recoup workers’ compensation benefits, but are barred from pursuing tort claims against their employers for workplace harm. As such, whether a party is able to pursue negligence claims against the entity they work for depends on whether they are an independent contractor or employee, as shown in a recent Massachusetts ruling. If you sustained injuries at work, it is wise to confer with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney regarding your rights.

History of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff, was injured while working on a roofing project for the defendant, a subcontractor. He subsequently filed a lawsuit against the defendant, asserting a negligence claim. The defendant moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, ruling that the plaintiff could not establish independent contractor status, which would allow him to bring a negligence action without being barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity. The plaintiff appealed.

Independent Contractor Versus Employee in Workers’ Compensation Cases

On appeal, the court’s review of the evidence indicates that there were conflicting allegations regarding the plaintiff’s status as an independent contractor or an employee, and therefore, the entry of summary judgment was not appropriate. Continue reading →

Tragic accidents that cost people their lives sadly occur frequently throughout Massachusetts. In many instances, such incidents are caused by dangerous conditions the deceased party encountered on another person’s property. Simply because an unsafe condition exists in close proximity to where a person died, however, does not mean the condition caused the fatal harm. In a recent Massachusetts ruling in a case arising out of a fatal fall down a set of stairs, a court discussed what evidence is needed to prove causation in negligence claims. If you suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s carelessness, it is advisable to speak to a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your possible claims.

The Decedent’s Harm

Allegedly, the plaintiff’s decedent attended a party at a property owned by the defendant. At one point during the evening, he fell down the stairs into the partially finished basement. No one witnessed his fall, and he suffered extensive brain damage and was unable to communicate. He died one week later. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant, arguing the defendant’s negligent failure to maintain the steps in a proper condition caused the decedent’s death. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to prove the element of causation. The court agreed and granted the defendant’s motion, after which the plaintiff appealed.

Proving Causation in Negligence Cases

Under Massachusetts law, a plaintiff alleging negligence hast to prove that the defendant breached the duty to exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff sustained an actual loss, and the loss was caused by the defendant’s breach. Causation is a critical element of the plaintiff’s burden of proof. In the subject case, however, the plaintiff’s sole proof that the stairs were defective and that the defect caused the decedent’s fall was an opinion letter from an expert that was not verified. Continue reading →

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.

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.