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Court Analyzes Immunity of Public Employers Under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act

In most instances, when a person suffers harm because of another party’s negligence, the victim may pursue damages. In certain cases, however, regardless of whether a party acted negligently, the injured person may not be able to recover compensation because the negligent party is immune from liability. For example, under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (the Act), public employers are exempt from liability in certain circumstances. Recently, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts analyzed whether the Act protects a public employer from liability for inadequate staffing, in a case arising out of a train accident. If you were injured due to the negligence of a person or entity, it is prudent to meet with a capable Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your potential claims.

The Plaintiff’s Harm

It is alleged that the plaintiff fell off a platform at a train station. A train owned by the defendant transportation authority subsequently struck the plaintiff, and he suffered serious injuries. The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, arguing in part that the defendant negligently failed to staff the station with a customer service agent or a safety inspector on the day of the plaintiff’s accident. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from liability under the Act. The court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

Public Employer Immunity Under the Act

Under the Act, a public employer is immune from all claims that arise out of the performance or exercise of a discretionary duty or function, or the failure to exercise such a duty or function. In the subject case, the plaintiff did not dispute the fact that the defendant was a public employer as defined by the Act. Thus, the issue analyzed by the court was whether it was within the defendant’s discretion to determine which course of conduct to undertake and, if so, whether it was the kind of discretion for which the Act provided immunity. The court stated that if a regulation, statute, or established practice dictates a party must take a certain course of action, a defendant’s behavior will not be protected by the discretionary function exception of the Act.

The court found that there was no evidence that the defendant had an established plan or policy regarding the scheduling of personnel. Since there was no statute or regulation dictating the defendant’s customer service or safety inspector staffing requirements either, the court found that such staffing decisions were entirely discretionary.

The court then turned to the second step of the analysis:  whether the conduct that produced the injury was essential to the defendant’s planning or policymaking, whether the imposition of liability would threaten the efficiency of the defendant’s process, and whether reviewing the defendant’s conduct would usurp the power of the legislature. Upon analyzing each factor, the court found in favor of the defendant. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Consult a Skillful Personal Injury Attorney

If you were injured due to another party’s failure to act with reasonable care, it is wise to speak with a skillful Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding the recourse that you may have for your harm. The dedicated personal injury attorneys at Karsner & Meehan will zealously pursue any compensation you may be owed. You can reach us via our form online or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a free and confidential meeting.