Massachusetts Court Discusses Commonwealth Immunity for Acts of Third-Parties

Under Massachusetts law, the Commonwealth is granted broad immunities from tort claims. While the Massachusetts Torts Claims Act (the Act) provides some exceptions to sovereign immunity the exceptions are narrow and only apply in certain circumstances. Recently, a Massachusetts appellate court analyzed whether the Act permitted a minor to pursue negligence claims against a Commonwealth entity following an assault by a third party while the minor was in custody. If you suffered an injury while you were in the custody of the Commonwealth or due to a Commonwealth actor, it is prudent to consult a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your options for seeking recourse.

Facts Surrounding the Plaintiff’s Harm

Allegedly, the plaintiff, who is a minor, was in the custody of the defendant Commonwealth entity at a center for juvenile offenders. The plaintiff was assaulted by another resident, after which he suffered a stroke, swelling of the brain, and a dissection of the carotid artery. Due to his injuries, he requires around the clock care. He then brought a lawsuit against the defendant alleging several claims, including a negligence claim pursuant to the Act. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged the defendant failed to prevent the other resident from causing his injuries. The defendant moved to dismiss all of the plaintiff’s claims. The court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed.

Commonwealth Liability Under the Act

The Act waives the Commonwealth’s immunity to a limited extent. Further, there are numerous exclusions from the limited waiver. For example, one exclusion provides the Commonwealth immunity for any claim that arises out of the failure to diminish or prevent a harmful condition or situation, which includes the tortious conduct or violent acts of a third party, as long as the Commonwealth employer or one of its employees was not the original cause of the tortious act.

The purpose of the preceding exclusion is to provide immunity for government employers for tort liability. Cases interpreting the exclusion have found the phrase original cause to mean an affirmative act taken by a public employer that substantially contributed to the precise situation or condition that caused the harm brought about by a third party. Put another way, the exclusion provides immunity for public employers for the employer’s failure to prevent harm brought about by the wrongful act of a third party, unless the public employer was the original cause of the situation or condition.

In the subject case, the court noted that the plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the third-party struck him in the side of the neck, but did not allege that the defendant’s employees took any affirmative actions that led to the assault, or that they had knowledge that the assault would occur. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak with a Capable Personal Injury Attorney

If you sustained an injury due to someone else’s reckless act it is advisable to speak with a capable Massachusetts personal injury attorney to assess what compensation you may be able to pursue. The diligent personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are adept at helping injured parties seek compensation and will work tirelessly to assist you in pursuing a favorable result. You can contact us through our form online or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a complimentary and confidential meeting.