Court Discusses Negligence and Releases Under Massachusetts Law

Many activities require participants to sign a release in which the participant waives the right to recover damages for any injuries sustained during the activity. As such, even if an entity’s negligence causes a participant harm, he or she may not be able to recover compensation. If a release is ambiguous, however, a person may still be able to pursue damages.

This was illustrated in a recent case decided by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, in which the court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s negligence claim, where the terms of the release were unclear. If you were injured due to someone else’s negligence, you should confer with a seasoned  Massachusetts personal injury attorney to formulate a plan to help you pursue compensation.

Facts Surrounding the Plaintiff’s Injury

 It is alleged that the plaintiff was a patron of one of the defendant’s yoga studios. She signed up for training classes, and prior to the classes signed a participation agreement and release of liability. During one training session, the plaintiff used a metal frame stackable chair. When the session was over, the plaintiff folded the chair, lifted it over her head, and carried it to the area of the room where the chairs were stacked. Allegedly, one of the defendant’s employees grabbed the chair without warning, which caused the chair to swing and strike the plaintiff in the head. The blow caused the plaintiff to sustain a concussion. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging she suffered damages due to the negligence of the defendant and its employees. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there was no negligence and the release precluded liability regardless. The court denied the defendant’s motion.

Standard for Proving Negligence Under Massachusetts Law

Under Massachusetts law, to recover on a negligence claim a plaintiff must prove the defendant owed him or her a duty of reasonable care, the defendant breached the duty, damage resulted, and a causal connection between the damage and the breach. To prove a breach caused the damage alleged a plaintiff only needs to show that it is more likely than not that the harm was caused by the defendant rather than another cause. Here, the court found that there was sufficient evidence for a finder of fact to conclude that the defendant negligently caused the plaintiff’s harm.

Terms of the Release

The court stated that where the terms of a contract, such as a release, are ambiguous, the intent of the parties is a question of fact to be determined at trial. The court found that the language of the release was not broad enough for it to be considered a general release. Specifically, it generally released the defendant from any claims related to guest participation only. The court noted that it was unclear whether the plaintiff’s injury would fall under the realm of guest participation. As such, the court found that the terms of the release were ambiguous and did not preclude the plaintiff’s claims as a matter of law.

 Set Up a Consultation with a Skilled Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

If you were injured due to someone else’s negligence, you may be able to recover damages, even if you signed a release, and you should consult a skilled Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your case. The personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan will aggressively pursue any damages you may be able to recover. You can reach us at 508-822-6600 or through our online form to set up a confidential and free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Court Finds Determining Which Party is Liable is an Issue for the Jury in Massachusetts Premises Liability Case, January 16, 2019, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog