Court Analyzes Liability Under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act

In Massachusetts, government entities and agencies can be held liable for negligence under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (Act). There are certain exceptions to the Act, however, that insulate municipalities and public employees from liability. A Massachusetts appellate court recently discussed when a municipality may be held liable for harm caused by negligent acts, in a case in which a bystander was injured during a police investigation. If you were injured by a person working for a government entity or municipality it is essential to speak with a knowledgeable Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding the facts surrounding your harm and what damages you may be able to pursue.

Factual Background of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff was having a conversation on the sidewalk with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, when they were approached by three police officers. The officers were responding to a 911 call made by the plaintiff’s sister, due to a domestic dispute with the boyfriend. One of the officers grabbed the boyfriend from behind and began to conduct a pat down and frisk the boyfriend. The boyfriend pulled a gun out of his pants and began shooting at the officers. The officers returned gunfire and subsequently fatally shot the boyfriend. During the exchange of gunfire, the plaintiff was shot in the leg by the boyfriend.

Reportedly, the plaintiff sued the defendant city, alleging a claim of negligence. The case proceeded to trial. Following the close of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant moved for a directed verdict. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion. At the close of the evidence the defendant renewed its motion, which was again denied. The jury awarded the plaintiff $253,391.73, which was reduced to $100,000 pursuant to the Act. The defendant then filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the court denied. The defendant appealed.

The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act

The defendant argued that it was immune from liability under the Act’s statutory public duty rule, which prohibits claims based on the tortious conduct of third parties that are not originally caused by the public employer. Additionally, the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by a portion of the act that prohibits claims arising out of the failure to provide police protection.

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling that these exclusions did not apply. First, the court noted that the plaintiff did not assert that the defendant failed to protect her from harm caused by third parties. Rather, the court stated that the plaintiff successfully proved the defendant was liable for creating a danger that was not previously present. The court noted that the exclusion under the Act for failure to provide police protection is meant to exclude claims for the failure to investigate and detect crimes and enforce the law but does not extend to each negligent act an officer commits in the course of providing police protection.

In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiff proved that her harm was caused by the defendant creating a harm that did not previously exist, rather than showing it failed to provide adequate protection in a public emergency. Additionally, the court found that the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to show that the boyfriend’s acts were the foreseeable result of the defendant’s negligence. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Consult an Experienced Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney Regarding Your Case

If you suffered harm due to the negligence of an employee of a municipality or government agency you should consult an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your case and what compensation you might be owed. The trusted attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan can anticipate any hurdles to your recovery and assist you in the pursuit of damages for your harm.  We can be reached via our online form or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a meeting regarding your case.