Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Court
Smith v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth.
This case stemmed from plaintiff's suit against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) where plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident with a bus operated by a MBTA employee. Effective November 1, 2009, the amendments to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, G.L.c. 258, sections 1-14, and the MBTA's enabling statute, G.L.c. 161A (collectively, 2009 amendments), made the MBTA a "public employer" covered by the Tort Claims Act, G.L.C. 258, section 1. At issue was whether the 2009 amendments applied retroactively, allowing the MBTA the protections of public employer status against a plaintiff whose claims accrued prior to November 1, 2009. The court concluded that the 2009 amendments did not so apply. Accordingly, plaintiff was not precluded from recovering prejudgment interest and costs of postjudgment interest against the MBTA that accrued prior to November 1, 2009.
Marcus v. City of Newton
Plaintiff sued the city after he was injured by a falling tree during a softball game on a public field owned by the city. The city appealed the denial of its motion for summary judgment based on the ground that it was immune from suit pursuant to the recreational use statute, G.L.c. 21, section 17c. The city argued that it was entitled to immediate appellate review of the denial under the doctrine of present execution. Although the court held that the doctrine did not apply in the circumstances of the case, the court nonetheless considered the merits of the city's appeal and concluded that the denial of its motion for summary judgment was appropriate.
Scott Wadsworth’s Case
An insurer appealed from a decision related to an employee's injury in a metal rolling machine accident. The court concluded that the board was not arbitrary or capricious in deciding that there was insufficient evidence to find that the employee was entitled under G.L.c. 152, section 51 to compensation based on an amount greater than his average weekly wage. But the court concluded that the board erred in finding that the employee's compensation should be based on the average weekly wage he earned when injured in 1980 rather than the out-of-state average weekly wage he earned when that injury recurred in 2003. The court also affirmed the board's decision to vacate the denial of recoupment for the insurer's overpayment of temporary total disability benefits between 1985 and 1988, but noted that, should the insurer decide to renew its claim for recoupment in a separate complaint filed with the department, its claim could prevail only if recoupment was equitable in the circumstances.
Juliano & others v. Simpson & another.
Plaintiffs originally filed a complaint asserting that defendants were liable on various claims under principles of common-law negligence. After a variety of counts against defendants were dismissed on summary judgment, plaintiffs amended their complaint to assert additional claims against defendants. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant, Jessica, was negligent for knowingly allowing underage persons to possess alcohol on property under her control -- conduct that plaintiffs claimed violated G.L.c. 138, section 34. The court was asked to enlarge the scope of social host liability under its common law by extending a duty of care to an underage host who did not supply alcohol to underage guests, but provided a location where they were permitted to consume it. The court declined to extend the scope of liability and reaffirmed that liability attached only where a social host either served alcohol or exercised effective control over the supply of alcohol. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.
Rhodes & others vs. AIG Domestic Claims Inc., & others.
This appeal related to insurance claims settlement practices of a primary and an excess insurance carrier. The underlying lawsuit involved a tort action against, among others, the truck driver who rear ended plaintiff's car, causing her serious injuries. The court concluded that the damages plaintiff and her family (plaintiffs) were entitled to recover under G.L.c. 93A, section 9, on account of defendants' postjudgment violation of G.L.c. 93A, section 2 and G.L.c. 176D, section 3(9)(f), must be based on the underlying judgment in plaintiffs' tort action, and not the loss of use of the sum ultimately included in the excess insurer's late-tendered settlement offer months after the jury's verdicts. This conclusion made it unnecessary to determine whether the excess insurer's willful and knowing violation of the application statutes before the verdicts in the tort case caused injury to plaintiffs, because even if, as they argued, plaintiffs did establish the requisite causal link between the excess insurer's preverdict violations and injury and thereby were entitled to a multiple of the underlying tort judgment as damages, plaintiffs could not recover that amount twice. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judge's determination that the primary insurer did not violate G.L.c. 93A and G.L.c. 176D, and was not liable to plaintiffs.
Passatempo, trustee, & others v. McMenimen, & others.
Samuel Pietropaolo Sr. (Sam Sr.)directed a substantial portion of his retirement benefits to the upkeep of a life insurance policy that he purchased in 1998 through his nephew, an insurance agent. The nephew assured Sam Sr. and the other plaintiffs that the policy provided death benefits of $500,000 but, in fact, the policy provided only $200,000 in benefits. Although plaintiffs regularly received accurate policy statements from the insurer that issued the policy, they relied on the nephew's assurances as to the policy's value for almost six years, only bringing this action in July 2004. The court concluded that plaintiffs' claims were properly pleaded in tort under G.L.c. 93A. Their claims were therefore subject to the limitations periods in G.L.c. 260, section 2A, and 5A, respectively, which were susceptible to tolling. The court further concluded that the nephew's fraudulent concealment of these claims tolled the limitation period as to claims against the nephew himself, but did not toll the limitation period with regard to the remaining defendants. However, because the limitation period for claims brought under G.L.c. 93A was longer than the limitation period for tort claims, the nationwide defendants have not shown that plaintiffs' G.L.c. 93A claim against Nationwide was time barred. The court finally concluded that the trial judge did not err in deciding that the economic loss doctrine did not bar plaintiffs' common-law claims; determining that it was not unreasonable as a matter of law for plaintiffs to have relied on the nephew's misrepresentations; dismissing plaintiffs' G.L.c. 93A claim against Barry G. Armstrong; determining the amount of the damages on plaintiffs' G.L.c. 93A claim against the nephew; or calculating the award of attorney's fees against the nephew.
Sisson, Jr., et al. v. Lhowe, et al.
Following the death of plaintiff's wife, plaintiff amended the complaint for medical malpractice in a pending action against defendants, to include a claim for wrongful death. The wrongful death claim in the amended complaint was subsequently dismissed as time barred pursuant to G.L.c. 260, section 4 (statute of repose), and plaintiff appealed. The court held that a wrongful death claim could be substituted for a personal injury claim only where the trial had not commenced; the original complaint alleging malpractice was filed within the statutes of limitation and repose; and the allegations of liability supporting the personal injury claim were the same as those supporting the wrongful death claim. Accordingly, the court held that the wrongful death claim in this case should not have been dismissed where plaintiff could, after the period of time set forth in the statue of repose had expired, amend a complaint alleging medical malpractice resulting in injury including expected premature death.
Casavant & another v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd.
Plaintiffs brought an action against defendant, seeking a refund of two cruise tickets they purchased and cancelled, and damages under G.L.c. 93A for unfair and deceptive trade practices. The court concluded that the evidence at trial plainly established that defendant violated the Attorney General's travel service regulations in two respects: fist, it failed to disclose the refund policy; and second, having violated the disclosure statement, it failed to refund the payments made by a cancelling customer within thirty days. These violations qualified as unfair or deceptive acts, and they caused plaintiffs a loss: the lack of a prompt refund of the ticket price. The court also concluded that plaintiffs' demand letter satisfied the requirements of G.L.c. 93A, section 9(3). The purposes of the demand letter were sufficiently fulfilled where it constituted fair notice of the claim and enabled defendant to make a reasonable tender of settlement. Accordingly, the judgment for defendant on plaintiffs' claims was reversed and the case remanded for the entry of judgment for plaintiffs and for determination of their damages, reasonable attorneys' fees, and costs.
Metropolitan Property and Casualty Ins. Co. v. Morrison, Jr.
This case arose when Robert Morrison, Jr. pleaded guilty to, among other things, four counts of assault and battery on a public employee (the arresting police officer) and the officer consequently brought a civil suit against Morrison for his injuries. Morrison and Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Metropolitan) subsequently applied for direct appellate review on the issue of whether Metropolitan had a duty to defend and indemnify Morrisson in the civil suit. The court held that an exclusion in a liability policy for "intentional and criminal acts" applied where the insured intended to commit the conduct that caused injury and where the conduct was criminal. The court also held that a guilty plea did not negate an insurer's duty to defend, even where the duty to defend would be negated by a criminal conviction after trial, because a guilty plea was not given preclusive effect and was simply evidence that the insured's acts were intentional and criminal. The court further held that one of the consequences of such a breach of its duty to an insured by failing to provide a defense was that, in determining whether the insurer owed a duty to indemnify the insured for the default judgment, the insurer was bound by the factual allegations in the complaint as to liability. The court finally held that, because the judge based her conclusion that Metropolitan had no duty to indemnify in large part on Morrison's guilty pleas and because the judge determined that Metropolitan had no duty to indemnify without first determining whether it owed a duty to defend at the time of the default judgment, the court vacated the declaratory judgment and set aside the allowance of Metropolitan's motion for summary judgment as well as the denial of Morrison's motion for partial summary judgment. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings.
Golchin v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co.
Plaintiff filed suit against Liberty Mutual, both personally and on behalf of a putative class of similarly situated individuals, alleging that the company's failure to disburse "medical payments" coverage (MedPay) benefits to her constituted a breach of contract, a breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and a violation of G.L.c. 93A, 2. At issue was whether a claimant could seek medical expense benefits under the MedPay of a standard Massachusetts automobile insurance policy where she had already recovered for those expenses under a separate policy of health insurance. The court held that plaintiff's complaint and the extrinsic materials submitted by Liberty Mutual contained alleged facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." The court also held that Liberty Mutual had not demonstrated as a matter of law that plaintiff could not receive MedPay benefits when she already had received medical expense benefits under her policy of health insurance. Accordingly, the order allowing Liberty Mutual's motion to dismiss was reversed and the matter remanded.