Massachusetts Appeals Court Reviews Core Elements of Negligence Action Against Demolition Company

In Draper v. Francesco Demolition, Inc. (15-P-702), the Commonwealth’s Appeals Court reviewed a directed verdict made during trial in favor of the defendants in a personal injury action, determining whether an injured man contracted bacterial pneumonia as a result of the defendants’ negligence. In this case, the focus was whether the injured man presented enough proof to show his injury was caused by the defendants. In its analysis, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the injured man needed some sort of expert testimony to help the jury distinguish between his pre-existing condition and the injuries caused by the bacterial pneumonia alleged to have been caused by the standing water.

Draper centered around proof of causation, which is one of the four elements in any personal injury action. The four elements in a negligence lawsuit are commonly known as duty, breach, causation, and damages. A defendant cannot be held liable unless she or he owes some sort of duty under the law to the injured party. The injured party must then show that the duty was breached and that the breach was the cause of the injury. Proving causation at trial can be accomplished in many ways, depending on the situation. People who witnessed the scene can be called to testify. Professionals can be called to testify about their field of expertise to help the jury understand a complicated engineering or medical concept. Pictures and research can also be utilized to help illustrate certain ideas or a sense of the place where the injury occurred.

The appellate court in Draper looked at the injured man’s health and lifestyle, which included tobacco and alcohol use, prior lung disease, a pre-existing heart block, and a need for a pace-maker. During trial, the injured man chose not to introduce any medical records or expert testimony. He also chose to change the injury from pneumonia to an unidentified illness, even though the defendants used a medical expert who testified it was pneumonia and caused by his collection of pre-existing conditions. The injured man claimed he was going to rely on his own testimony, his wife’s testimony, and a witness, but that was not enough for the trial court or the Appeals Court.

The injured man specifically appealed the proposed jury instructions regarding causation, and he felt the judge committed an error by concluding the injured man needed his own medical records or expert testimony. The Appeals Court ruled that it was unnecessary to formally address the jury instructions, since they were never given to the jury after the directed verdict was granted. The appellate court affirmed the directed verdict on the same reasoning, determining it was impossible for the jury to rule in the plaintiff’s favor without speculation and conjecture.

The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to properly and fully litigate your case. Our office knows when expert testimony is necessary to help prove one or all of the elements of a claim, and we will tirelessly seek to maximize the damages you deserve. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 508.822.6600.

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