In Massachusetts, an injured party can be partially responsible for her or his own injuries and still recover damages from a negligent party. However, the responsibility for the injury cannot be greater than the defendant party or parties. If the injured person meets the threshold but contributed to the injury, the amount of damages is offset by the amount of fault assigned to the injured party. For example, if an injured person is found to be 47% negligent and awarded $100,000 in damages, the injured party can recover $53,000. If the negligent party is found to be greater than 50% negligent, she or he will receive none of the damages.The Appeals Court reviewed this issue in a recent decision, Craffey v. Embree Construction Group (16-P-791), providing insight into the types of proof offered at trial in the pursuit of damages. In this case, the injured worker, a contractor, fell from the scaffolding at a construction site. After the injury, the worker filed suit, alleging the employer was negligent due to violations of both federal and state regulations for workplace safety.
At trial, the court allowed the introduction of the federal regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) but did not allow the introduction of state regulations, since the federal regulations pre-empted the state regulations. At the end of the trial, the jury found the defendant to be 49% negligent and the injured contractor to be 51% negligent, resulting in the dismissal of the injured man’s complaint and no award of damages. The injured contractor appealed, asking for a new trial. The contractor argued the judge’s ruling prohibiting the introduction of state regulations negatively influenced the verdict.
The Appeals Court first established what must be shown to receive a new trial. In this case, the injured contractor would have to demonstrate that the excluded evidence would have changed the verdict to be in his favor. Exclusion alone is not grounds enough for a new trial unless it affected the substantial rights of the parties. The court noted that since the trial, all of the state regulations had been repealed because they were preempted by OSHA. The court determined that even if there wasn’t pre-emption, and even if the court erred in the exclusion, the injured party could not say with substantial confidence that inclusion would have made a material difference in the verdict.
The appellate court pointed out that the wording of the state regulations was nearly identical to the federal regulations. The court reviewed the scaffolding regulations, which both required planking of platforms to be overlapped by a minimum of 12 inches or secured from movement. The Appeals Court also did not think the introduction of state regulations requiring general contractors to ensure the safety of worksites would have changed the outcome of the trial. Both state and federal regulations required the general contractor to maintain a worksite that followed all appropriate safety measures and programs. The court found that the injured contractor was not entitled to a new trial, affirming the lower court’s dismissal of the complaint.
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