Massachusetts Court Affirms Dismissal of Negligence Claim Due to Lack of Causation

Tragic accidents that cost people their lives sadly occur frequently throughout Massachusetts. In many instances, such incidents are caused by dangerous conditions the deceased party encountered on another person’s property. Simply because an unsafe condition exists in close proximity to where a person died, however, does not mean the condition caused the fatal harm. In a recent Massachusetts ruling in a case arising out of a fatal fall down a set of stairs, a court discussed what evidence is needed to prove causation in negligence claims. If you suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s carelessness, it is advisable to speak to a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your possible claims.

The Decedent’s Harm

Allegedly, the plaintiff’s decedent attended a party at a property owned by the defendant. At one point during the evening, he fell down the stairs into the partially finished basement. No one witnessed his fall, and he suffered extensive brain damage and was unable to communicate. He died one week later. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant, arguing the defendant’s negligent failure to maintain the steps in a proper condition caused the decedent’s death. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to prove the element of causation. The court agreed and granted the defendant’s motion, after which the plaintiff appealed.

Proving Causation in Negligence Cases

Under Massachusetts law, a plaintiff alleging negligence hast to prove that the defendant breached the duty to exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff sustained an actual loss, and the loss was caused by the defendant’s breach. Causation is a critical element of the plaintiff’s burden of proof. In the subject case, however, the plaintiff’s sole proof that the stairs were defective and that the defect caused the decedent’s fall was an opinion letter from an expert that was not verified.

The court found this to be insufficient, noting that a mere opinion that is not an affidavit nor sworn to under the penalty of perjury is not sufficient evidence to withstand a Motion for Summary Judgment. The court went on to state that, even if it were to consider the opinion letter, it failed to demonstrate causation regardless. The court explained that to find that the issue of causation should be presented to the fact finder, a plaintiff must show that there was a probability or greater likelihood that the harm suffered was caused by the defendant rather than any other cause.

While an expert’s opinion might be able to do so, it must be based on facts in evidence. Here, though, there were no facts of record regarding the mechanism of the decedent’s fall. Based on the foregoing, the court found there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate causation and affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.

Meet with a Trusted Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

People often suffer injuries due to dangerous conditions encountered on negligently maintained properties, and sadly in some cases, their injuries are fatal. If you lost a loved one in a fatal accident, trusted personal injury attorney James K. Meehan can gather the facts and evidence needed to help you seek the full extent of damages recoverable under the law. You can contact attorney Meehan at 508-822-6600 or through the online form to schedule a conference.