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Court Upholds Directed Verdict in Favor of Defendant Due to Late Notice Under the Massachusetts Defective Way Statute

Under Massachusetts law, a party who is injured by someone else’s negligence typically has three years from the date of the injury to pursue a claim against the negligent party. In certain cases, however, such as when a person is injured on a public way, the law requires that the injured party provide notice of any potential claim to the allegedly negligent party in a much shorter time frame.

As shown in a recent case decided by the Appeals Court of Massachusetts, the failure to provide notice of a claim for injuries arising from a defective way can be fatal to a plaintiff’s case, regardless of the cause of the delay. If you suffered harm due to an accident caused by a defective way, you should consult a skilled Massachusetts personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options for seeking damages.

Factual and Procedural History

Allegedly, the plaintiff suffered injuries to her foot while she was walking on a public way in Boston, due to a depression in the road. She provided notice of the claim to the city within thirty days, as required by G. L. c. 84, §§ 15 & 18, commonly referred to as the defective way statute. About three months later, the city sent a letter to the plaintiff denying liability and stating that the defendant gas company was the party responsible for the way in question. The plaintiff sent notice to the defendant gas company the following day and subsequently filed a lawsuit against both the city and the defendant gas company. The defendant gas company filed a motion to dismiss due to late notice, which the court denied. The case proceeded to trial. After the close of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant gas company filed a motion for a directed verdict due to the late notice. The court granted the motion, and plaintiff appealed.

Notice Under the Defective Way Statute

The defective way statute sets forth the sole remedy for injuries caused by defects in public ways. This is true regardless of whether the defect is caused by the Commonwealth, a division of the Commonwealth, or any person obligated by law to repair the way. The person who suffers the injury bears the burden of notifying the responsible party within thirty days of the injury. The notice requirement is strictly applied, and timely notice is required to bring a lawsuit an is an essential element of the cause of action.

Here, the plaintiff did not dispute that she did not provide notice in a timely manner. Rather, she argued that she should not be made to adhere to the thirty-day notice requirement, due to the fact that she was unable to determine that the gas company was the responsible party prior to notification from the city. Further, she argued that the right to due process should afford her an exception to the thirty-day requirement. The court disagreed, finding that a plaintiff could not excuse late notice due to the fact that the responsible party was not easily identifiable. Rather, late notice under the defective way statute is only excused if the plaintiff could not provide notice due to physical or mental incapacity. As the evidence of record showed that the plaintiff failed to provide the defendant gas company with timely notice, the court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

Meet with a Skilled Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered harm due to another party’s negligent acts, you should consult with a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your options for seeking compensation. The personal injury attorneys of Karsner & Meehan will work diligently to help you show another party should be held accountable for your harm. We can be contacted at 508-822-6600 or through our online form to schedule a confidential and free meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Court Reviews Extent of Tort Claims Act in Serious Injury Slip and Fall Suit, June 12, 2018, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog