Articles Tagged with “Supreme Judicial Court”

Attorney Marc L. Breakstone was quoted in a front-page Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article about common law liability for injuries caused by sidewalk defects. The current common-law standard dates back centuries and prohibits many plaintiffs from recovering compensation for injuries. But a recent Appeals Court ruling may have finally set the stage for change.

Attorney Breakstone welcomes the idea. “I think that the common law is a living body of principles that has to evolve as social conditions and the realities of life evolve,” he said.

20161128_sidewalkdefectEarlier this month, the Appeals Court ruled in the case of Halbach, et al. v. Normandy Real Estate Partners, et al., concurring that a Superior Court judge had correctly granted summary judgment to the defendant, 100 & 200 Clarendon LLC, which operated, leased and maintained the John Hancock Tower and a neighboring garage in Boston.

reza-breakstone-web.jpgBy Reza Breakstone

In a major victory for the rights of injured workers, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that pain and suffering damages, to which injured workers are entitled in their accident cases, are not subject to liens from workers’ compensation insurance companies. As a result of the ruling, workers will be able to keep more of their personal injury settlements and verdicts.

Until today, there was confusion over the relationship between workers’ compensation liens and damages paid by a third party to employees for worksite injuries. If an employee gets injured, he or she is entitled to workers’ compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and other specific damages. But workers’ compensation insurance does not pay for pain and suffering damages.

tree.jpgThe Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has rejected an appeal by the City of Newton which attempted to claim an exemption from liability for personal injuries suffered by a softball player on one of its fields. The City claimed it was exempt from liability under the Recreational Use Statute, but the court ruled the statute did not apply.

The plaintiff in the case was a paying member of a softball league in Newton. While at a game one day in July, 2007, he was sitting in a grassy area, waiting for his turn at bat and watching the game. He heard a cracking sound, and turned to see a tree falling on him. He could not escape the falling tree, and suffered injuries to his back, shoulder blades, and other parts of his body.

The name of the case discussed is Marcus v. City of Newton, 462 Mass. 148 (2012), and was decided on May 7, 2012.

Click here to read our case summary and for a link to the opinion.
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carcrash.jpgTeenagers who host underage drinking parties but do not supply alcohol cannot be held liable in Massachusetts for injuries suffered by their guests, the state’s highest court has ruled. The ruling continues to limit liability to social hosts who either serve alcohol or exercise effective control over the supply of alcohol.

The Supreme Judicial Court also released parents or property owners from any liability if they did not know about the drinking or did not provide alcohol.

The case was brought by the family of Rachel Juliano and her parents against Christopher Dunbar and Peter Simpson, then later also his daughter Jessica Simpson. In 2007, Juliano, then 16, and Dunbar, then 19, went to a party at Jessica Simpson’s Wrentham home. The two had brought their own alcohol and consumed it at the gathering. Simpson, then 19, was home alone, and her father was away and unaware of the party.

After a few hours, Dunbar left in his car with Juliano and had a car accident, leaving her with brain damage. Prior to leaving the party, the two had been arguing. Jessica Simpson intervened and proposed she drive the two home.

In its decision, the Supreme Judicial Court said it was “asked to enlarge the scope of social host liability under our common law by extending a duty of care to an underage host who does not supply alcohol to underage guests, but provides a location where they are permitted to consume it. … [W]e decline to do so, and reaffirm that liability attaches only where a social host either serves alcohol or exercises effective control over the supply of alcohol.”

There were two concurring opinions. Three of the justices agreed with the result, but did not agree with the reasoning of the majority in the case. This case has now been remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings.

Although the Supreme Judicial Court has the authority to define the common law, and to determine the extent of legal duty that one person has to another, the court declined to expand that duty in this case. The Court has been active in recent years. For example, in 2010, the Court changed the common law in snow and ice cases, abrogating the old Massachusetts law that recognized distinctions between natural and unnatural accumulations. Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, SJC-10529 (July 26, 2010).

The Court also expanded the duty of limousine services which transport customers from party to party where heavy alcohol use is evident; the Court defined a duty to ensure that the drunken passenger had safe passage from the point of pick-up to drop-off at the end of the night. Commerce Insurance Co. v. Ultimate Livery Service, Inc., SJC-10149 (November 26, 2008).

Unfortunately, the Court’s opinion in the Juliano case means that the court will likely not re-examine other areas which are ripe for consideration, such as cases where adults knowingly permit underage drinking, and cases where bars knowingly serve large quantities of alcohol to patrons who by objective measure would be intoxicated, but who did not appear drunk. (For example, a patron may not show signs of intoxication after four or five mixed drinks, but would certainly exceed the state OUI limit of .08.)

Underage drinking and driving under the influence remain serious problems in Massachusetts. There is no pressure from the Supreme Judicial Court to treat these ills. Instead, the Court has left these problems for the legislature to address. Given the fact that the legislature has declined to take any needed action for many years, we can expect injuries and deaths caused by drunken driving to continue unabated.

Click here to read Juliano v. Simpson, (SJC-10843, February 21, 2012).

Click here to read about the Massachusetts social host liability law.
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Ruling Confirms Rights of Injured Workers to Bring Third Party Claims Against General Contractor after Receiving Workers’ Compensation Insurance

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today affirmed the right of an employee of an uninsured subcontractor to bring third party claims against the general contractor, even if the general contractor has made workers’ compensation payments pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 18. The case was an important victory for workers injured in construction accidents.

The case arose from an explosion on a residential construction site. The explosion killed a worker and seriously injured his son, who was also working at the site. Both men were employed by Great Green Barrier Co., which did not have workers’ compensation insurance. As a result, pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 18, the general contractor, Henry C. Becker Custom Building Ltd., was liable for the workers’ compensation obligations. This obligation arises under the policy in Massachusetts that a general contractor is responsible to hire only subcontractors which have workers’ compensation insurance available for their employees.

The defendant argued that the statutory scheme prevented the plaintiffs from making third party claims once they had accepted lump sum workers’ compensation settlements pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 23, which ordinarily bars workers from maintaining negligence claims against their employers if they have accepted workers’ compensation benefits. While this argument had persuaded the trial court, which granted summary judgment for the defendant, the ruling had been overturned by the Appeals Court. Wentworth v. Henry C. Becker Custom Bldg. Ltd, 76 Mass.App.Ct. 507 (2010).

The SJC granted further appellate review and affirmed the Appeals Court ruling, which reversed the summary judgment for the defendant.

Click here for more information on this case.
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