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Massachusetts Court Explains Pleading Requirements under the Tort Claims Act

Under Massachusetts law, recovering damages from a government entity, while not impossible, is complicated and there are strict guidelines that must be followed in any claim asserted. While governmental entities are afforded certain immunities and defenses, as set forth in a case recently decided by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, if a government entity fails to assert a defense in the required manner, it can result in the waiver of the defense. If you suffered an injury that was caused by the negligence of a governmental entity, you should consult a skilled Massachusetts personal injury attorney as soon as possible to assist you in your pursuit of damages.

Plaintiff’s Allegations

Allegedly, the plaintiff was assaulted by a bus driver who worked for the defendant transportation authority. The plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging claims of negligent hiring, training and supervision, and vicarious liability. The defendant filed an answer to the lawsuit, then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing the plaintiff failed to sufficiently notify the defendant of the negligence claim as required under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (the Act), and that it was immune to liability for the vicarious liability claim under the Act, due to the fact the liability was based on an intentional tort. The trial court granted the motion as to the vicarious liability claim, but denied it regarding the negligence claim, finding the defendant had waived the defense by failing to specifically assert the defense in its answer. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts took the case under review.

Adequately Pleading a Defense

On appeal, the court noted that under the Act, an injured party is required to send a presentment letter to the government entity notifying it of the claim, prior to establishing liability under the Act. Here, the plaintiff sent the defendant a presentment letter that only included allegations of the intentional tort. The plaintiff also asserted it properly presented the claim in his complaint. The court noted that while the presentment was inadequate, the defendant failed to specifically and particularly deny the plaintiff’s allegation of proper presentment in its answer, and therefore waived the defense of defective presentment. The court further explained the defendant must indicate the specific condition that remains unsatisfied by the presentment letter, and a general denial is insufficient. Here, the court noted the defendant could have easily alleged the presentment letter was inadequate because it did not contain allegations of negligence, but did not. Rather, the defendant merely set forth a boilerplate denial that the plaintiff’s presentment letter was proper.  As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling. 

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered injuries due to the negligence of a government employee, you may be able to recover damages, and you should meet with an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney as soon as possible. At Karsner & Meehan, our personal injury attorneys will work diligently on your behalf to help you pursue any compensation you may be owed. We can be reached at 508-822-6600 or via our online form to set up a free and confidential meeting.

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Massachusetts Tort Claims Act Protects Schools from Liability for Failing to Protect Harm Caused by Bullying July 16, 2018, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog

Dismissal of School Negligence Case Affirmed by Massachusetts Appellate Court May 28, 2018, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog