Rear-end Car Accident Dismissal Reversed by Massachusetts Appeals Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the dismissal of an injured person’s claim in a recent case. The injured person was rear-ended at a stoplight and later filed a Massachusetts car accident case, claiming the accident caused her pre-existing medical conditions to be aggravated, resulting in several medical bills. The trial had been rescheduled several times at the request of the injured person, but the injured person failed to show on the last scheduled trial date. The case was dismissed with prejudice for “want of prosecution,” even though the injured person’s attorney was present and ready for trial. The injured person appealed.

The plaintiff had asked and been granted three continuances for the scheduled date of trial. After the third continuance, the court indicated that would be the last one. The injured person still filed an emergency motion to continue the fourth date because her daughter was scheduled to give birth on or around the trial. This motion was denied, so the injured person’s attorney requested that if the client could not attend the trial, he’d be allowed to provide an explanation of her absence for her grandchild’s birth. The court advised this would be acceptable.

The injured person’s daughter did go into labor on the day before the trial, suffering complications. Despite the doctor’s note advising the daughter was in fact in the hospital and experiencing complications due to her high-risk pregnancy, the court denied the renewed request for another continuance. The court then dismissed the injured person’s complaint with prejudice, determining the injured person could not prove her case without providing testimony that she was the operator of one of the cars involved in the accident. The judge did not believe the injured person would show up for any part of the trial, and this would likely result in a directed verdict.

The Appeals Court agreed with the injured person’s argument that this dismissal was made in error. The court mentioned that the appellate issue was a narrow one and was not over the request for a continuance, nor the court’s ability to issue a directed verdict against the injured person. The injured person pointed out it was the court’s refusal to allow the opportunity for the injured person’s counsel to present her case before these determinations were made by the court. No court order had been issued mandating her attendance, and no rule of law exists that requires the injured person’s presence that would back the determination made by the trial court.

The appellate court agreed that in some cases, the plaintiff’s testimony would be necessary to prove her claim, but they found it was improper for the court in this case to base her dismissal on her absence. The Appeals Court stated the process surrounding summary judgment is the opportunity for the court to decide whether or not sufficient evidence is present to send a case to the jury. Once an injured person makes it past this consideration, case law makes it considerably more difficult (although not impossible) for a court to issue a directed verdict without hearing the available proof.

The appellate court found it was far from certain the injured person would be unable to prove her own case without testifying. The injured person’s attorney laid out how he could prove liability by using the testimony of the defendant driver and damages from the medical records. The injured person argued on appeal the court could not have predetermined which information could be extracted during trial through the defendant. The Appeals Court agreed. While the appellate court was sympathetic to the trial court’s frustrations and concerns about timeliness, they disagreed with the method of resolving the case without a formal record and a developed sense of what would be seen from the offered evidence. The case was reversed and remanded, allowing the injured person to conduct the trial.

The Massachusetts car accident attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the personal injury experience you need to help litigate your case. Call our office today for a free, confidential consultation at 508-822-6600.

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