Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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In this case concerning the legal relationship between the commercial custodian of three nondiscretionary IRAs and a named beneficiary of those accounts the Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part the decision of the superior court judge allowing UBS Financial Services, Inc.'s (UBS) motion for judgment on the pleadings as to all of Donna Aliberti's claims, holding that the facts alleged stated a claim that UBS's conduct violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9 (chapter 93A). Following the death of the IRAs' original account holder this dispute arose between Aliberti, a named IRA beneficiary, and UBS, as IRA custodian. Aliberti asserted claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of chapter 93A, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The superior court judge allowed UBS's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to all claims. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding (1) there was no plausible claim for breach of fiduciary duty because the custodian of a nondiscretionary IRA does not generally owe a fiduciary duty to a named beneficiary of that IRA; and (2) the interactions between the commercial custodian of a nondiscretionary IRA and a named beneficiary of that IRA occur in a business context within the meaning of chapter 93A, and the alleged injurious conduct of UBS plausibly constituted a chapter 93A violation. View "UBS Financial Services, Inc. v. Aliberti" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the orders denying a motor vehicle insurer's motions to stay trial in a wrongful death action until the question of coverage had been determined in a declaratory judgment action but and denying the insurer's Mass. R. Civ. P. 67 motion and vacated the wrongful death judgment, holding that the matter must be remanded for a reasonableness hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court addressed issues that arose where Insurer recognized its duty to defend Insureds in a wrongful death action but did so under a reservation of rights and then brought a separate action seeking a declaratory judgment that it owed no duty to indemnify Insureds for damages arising from the wrongful death action. The parties subsequently settled the wrongful death action. The plaintiff agreed to release the defendants from liability and seek damages only from Insurer. Insurer moved to deposit with the court the policy limit and postjudgment interest under Rule 67. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the judge properly denied Insurer's motions to stay; (2) the judge properly denied Insurer's motion to deposit the funds; and (3) where the settlements were executed with no determination of reasonable, the case must be remanded for a hearing on the reasonableness of the settlement/assignment agreements. View "Commerce Insurance Co. v. Szafarowicz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the motion judge denying Defendants' special motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' defamation claim pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H, holding that the motion judge did not err in concluding that Plaintiffs' colorable defamation claim was not a SLAPP suit. Plaintiffs, nine nurses who had been fired from Steward Carney Hospital, Inc., filed this defamation action against the hospital and others (collectively, Defendants). Defendants filed a special motion to dismiss the defamation claim under the anti-SLAPP statute. A superior court judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hospital, Inc., 477 Mass. 141 (2017), after augmenting the anti-SLAPP framework devised in Duracraft Corp. v. Holmes Products Corp., 247 Mass. 156 (1998) (Duracraft) and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the motion to dismiss was again denied. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed after applying the newly augmented framework, holding that the defamation claim was not a SLAPP suit because it was not brought with the primary motivation of chilling the hospital defendants' right to petition. View "Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial judge finding the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) liable for a retaliatory termination and awarding a total damages of $1,332,271, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. The jury found the MWRA terminated Plaintiff in retaliation for his taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2615, and expressing his intention to take FMLA leave in the future. The jury awarded back pay damages for Plaintiff's lost wages, made an advisory award of damages for the future loss of Plaintiff's pension benefits, and awarded damages for emotional distress and punitive damages. The trial judge further awarded liquidated damages and attorney's fees and costs. The MWRA appealed, primarily challenging the jury instructions. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial judge did not commit prejudicial error in instructing the jury; and (2) there was no abuse if discretion in calculating and awarding damages. View "DaPrato v. Massachusetts Water Resources Authority" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the superior court's grant of summary judgment to Defendant and dismissing Plaintiff's personal injury action on the grounds that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 84, 15, the road defect statute, provided the exclusive remedy for Plaintiff's claim and that Plaintiff had not provided the statutorily required notice, holding that section 15 did not limit Defendant's common-law liability under tort law and that Defendant may be sued for negligence without providing thirty days' notice under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 84, 18, the notice statute. Plaintiff was injured when, while riding his bicycle, he struck a utility cover that was misaligned with the road surface. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant, Veolia Energy North America, for negligence. The superior court judge dismissed the lawsuit. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the road defect and notice statutes apply to governmental and quasi-governmental actors responsible for the public duty of maintaining the public way and not to a private party such as Veolia that has created a particular defect in the road; and (2) Veolia may be sued for its own negligence without providing thirty days' notice. View "Meyer v. Veolia Energy North America" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court answered a question certified to it by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts concerning whether the six-year statute of repose set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, 2B operates to bar tort claims arising from diseases with extended latency periods where the defendants had knowing control of the injurious instrumentality at the time of exposure. The Supreme Judicial Court answered in the affirmative, concluding that section 2B completely eliminates all tort claims arising out of any deficiency or neglect in the design, planning, construction, or general administration of an improvement to real property after the established time period has run, even if the cause of action arises from a disease with an extended latency period, such as a disease associated with asbestos exposure, and even if a defendant had knowing control of the instrumentality of injury at the time of exposure. View "Stearns v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court’s order allowing in part and denying in part the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) motion for judgment on the pleadings on Plaintiff’s action alleging that Derek Smith, an MBTA bus driver, assaulted him, holding that the trial judge did not err. In his complaint, Plaintiff asserted claims for negligent hiring, training, and supervision; and vicarious liability. In allowing in part the MBTA’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, the superior court held (1) the MBTA was immune from the vicarious liability claim, and (2) Plaintiff failed adequately to present the negligence claim as required by the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, 4, but the MBTA had waived the defense of defective presentment. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the superior court judge was warranted in concluding that the MBTA waived the affirmative defense of inadequate presentment by failing to plead it with the required specificity and particularity. View "Theisz v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court’s dismissal of this complaint under the statute of repose, holding that a claim alleging that a building contractor committed an unfair or deceptive act under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 2 and 9 by violating Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 142A, 17(10) is subject to the six-year statute of repose set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, 2B. In 2016, Plaintiff brought this action alleging that renovations performed in 2000 to 2001 by Defendants caused a fire in her home in 2012. A superior court judge dismissed the complaint as untimely under the six-year statute of repose. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff’s chapter 93A claim was sufficiently tort-like to bring it within the ambit of the statute of repose; and (2) because this action was commenced more than six years after the work was completed, it was barred by chapter 260, section 2B, and therefore properly dismissed. View "Bridgwood v. A.J. Wood Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was whether Steward Carney Hospital owed Mary Miller, who was fatally stabbed in her home by N, a former patient of the hospital, and her family a duty of care, and if so, whether the hospital breached that duty when one of its physicians released N from involuntary psychiatric commitment. Plaintiffs, a representative of Miller’s estate and the mother of Miller’s granddaughter, brought this tort action against the hospital. A superior court judge allowed Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that the hospital did not owe Plaintiffs any duty of care. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the hospital did not owe the victim or her family any duty of care at the time of the killing because the order of civil commitment to hold N did not impose an independent duty on the hospital for N’s treatment and did not require the hospital to exercise any medical judgment as to the appropriateness of N’s release. View "Williams v. Steward Health Care System, LLC" on Justia Law

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Neither a controlled affiliate nor the manager of a controlled affiliate is a “public employer” as defined in the Tort Claims Act (Act), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, 2. Plaintiff allegedly injured himself when he slipped and fell while descending stairs at his apartment in a public housing development. Plaintiff filed a complaint against the Farmington Housing Authority (authority); Musterfield Place, LLC, a controlled affiliate of the authority, which owns the property (owner); and FHA Musterfield Manager, LLC, the managing agent for the owner (manager). The owner and manager moved for partial summary judgment arguing that they should be deemed public employers under the Act and therefore may not be held liable for damages in excess of $100,000. The trial judge denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the owner and manager were not public employers under the facts of this case. View "Acevedo v. Musterfield Place, LLC" on Justia Law