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Litigation: Illustrative Cases

Premises liability:

Verdict for apartment building owner and manager defendants:  Oil burner repairman suffered a ruptured quadriceps when he fell down the front stairs of the apartment building owned by our client.  The plaintiff alleged the steps were icy.  The last snow or ice event had been three days earlier.  We proved that the place from which he fell was covered by a canopy, and that the defendant owner and property manager diligently maintained the stairs and kept them as free from ice as reasonably possible.   The plaintiff had a worker’s compensation lien of $191,000.  He had died of unrelated causes.  His testimony was introduced by reading his deposition.  The plaintiff’s wife and administratrix rejected a significant offer before trial.  

A tenant suffered a degloving of her finger falling through plasterboard ceiling of basement, which was the unfinished floor at the bottom of a space off of a hallway in her apartment.   The space was behind an unlocked door to a former stairway to the basement.  The case was settled on the day of trial.

Independent contractor carpenter suffered severe lacerations to his hand when he lost his balance while using a table saw.   He alleged that the defendant had placed a ladder behind him in the work area, and that the ladder fell on him, causing him to put his hand into the saw.  The case was settled for one fourth of the special damages.

Judgment of no damages after trial against teenage partier involved in melee:  High school student at drinking party had three front teeth knocked out during a melee involving several teens.  The teens who allegedly kicked the plaintiff in the face settled, but the case against our client went to trial on theories of assault and negligence.  The jury found no damages caused by assault and battery, and negligence in impeding the plaintiff’s path of escape from the assailants.  However, the award was less than the settlement, and our client paid no damages.

Summary judgment for funeral director in emotional distress claim:  A client of a funeral home sued the funeral director in negligence for allegedly mishandling the remains of the decedent, where the funeral director had sent the remains of the client’s son to a crematory in New Hampshire.  The claim arose following extensive publicity alleging that the crematory had engaged in unprofessional conduct.  It was alleged that the crematory records were inaccurate and that cremains were mishandled.   We obtained summary judgment for the funeral director, who had testified as to his due diligence in selecting the crematory.  There was no evidence that these specific cremains were mishandled, or that the funeral director was responsible for the conduct of the independent contractor crematorium. 

Summary judgment for homeowner/contractor:   A homeowner building his own house and acting as his own general contractor was alleged to have been at fault for an injury to a worker when a crane dropped an unsecured load of concrete forms onto the worker, seriously injuring his leg.   We obtained summary judgment for the homeowner/builder on the grounds that he had no duty to the worker, an employee of an independent contractor.

Case dismissed on statute of limitations grounds despite assertion of “discovery rule.”  A former tenant sought to re-open her eviction case and bring a personal injury action for illnesses allegedly caused by water leaks into her apartment.  We successfully opposed those efforts in District Court.  The tenant then brought suit in Superior Court.  We successfully established that her personal injury claims were barred by the statute of limitations, and that the discovery rule did not extend the statutory period, based upon the plaintiff’s own pleadings and documents filed with the complaint.  The Superior Court granted our motion to dismiss, and it was upheld by the Appeals Court. 

Summary judgment: no duty to maintain sidewalk.   A Belmont couple was sued for serious injuries suffered when a passerby fell on the public sidewalk in front of their home.  The plaintiff alleged that the town’s snow removal ordinance created a duty to remove the snow and treat the ice.  The court granted summary judgment on the grounds that the ordinance does not create a basis for personal liability to the general public.

Misrepresentation in sale of real estate case dismissed:   After the plaintiffs lost a claim against them for adverse possession of a strip of land at the side of their property, the plaintiffs sued the person who had sold them the property, alleging that she had misrepresented her ownership in stating at closing that there were no persons in possession of her property.  The trial court granted our motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, as we established that the property buyer, not the seller has the duty to determine the boundaries of the property.  The Appeals Court upheld the Superior Court ruling.

Social Host Liability

Summary judgment for mother and seventeen year old daughter alleged to have been liable for the death of a seventeen year old high school classmate.  The plaintiff had participated in a pre-homecoming gathering of eight junior and senior girls at the home of our clients.  Bottles of rum had been obtained for them by a co-defendant.  The decedent arrived at our clients' home with the friend who had the rum in a tote bag.  The group drank rum in the basement recreation room, playing drinking games.  The students then went to another house where more alcohol was consumed, and after attending the homecoming game several gathered at a bonfire at an abandoned airport.   The decedent left the gathering in the woods alone.  Her body was later discovered in a nearby swampy area.  Our client the defendant student was alleged to have organized the gathering at her home and to have coordinated securing the rum.  We prevailed on the basis that there was no evidence that she had control over the alcohol consumed by the decedent, or that she had provided the alcohol that was consumed.  The defendant mother did not knowingly provide a place for the alcohol to be consumed, and did not have any role in providing the alcohol. 

Summary judgment for absent homeowner in social host case:  A homeowner, who had left home for the weekend, knowing that her adult daughter would have a party at the home, was sued in negligence by a partygoer who was hit in the face by another allegedly intoxicated partygoer.  The plaintiff suffered fractures and a severe lip laceration.  We obtained summary judgment for the homeowner despite assertions that the assailant had been drinking alcohol belonging to the homeowner. 

Dog-related injuries:

We have defended scores of dog owners and dog keepers in all kinds of claims, from bites and  knock-downs to pedestrian and motorcycle accidents allegedly caused by dogs.   We have defeated efforts to prove landlords liable for harboring dogs owned by tenants, including a trial at which we successfully barred efforts to prove that a Rottweiler was a known vicious and dangerous breed as a matter of law, akin to case law regarding pit bulls, resulting in a jury verdict for our client, the defendant landlord. 

Summary judgment for dog owner where plaintiff had obtained judgment against dog’s keeper - only the owner or keeper may be strictly liable.

85 year old woman fell and fractured hip when friendly dog off leash ran up to her, disputed contact, specials in excess of $500,000, settled for less than special damages. 

Landlord-tenant claims:

Jury verdict:  no negligence.  A tenant alleged a breach of the warranty of habitability due to the presence of bed bugs in the apartment.  The landlords testified as to their diligence in attempting to eradicate the pests.  The jury found no negligence or breach of the warranty of habitability. 

Jury verdict:  no causally related injuries or damages.   A tenant alleged that over the course of two years a defective gas-fired heater in her apartment caused her and her infant daughter to suffer carbon monoxide poisoning, and that her daughter’s developmental problems were caused by that defective condition.   At trial, opposing evidence by occupational health experts was introduced, and we introduced the testimony of an architect regarding sufficient sources of ambient air exchange.  The jury found that no personal injuries were caused by the property owner or manager.  

Motor Vehicle Rental and Entrustment Claims:

Summary Judgment for rental car company:  An automobile renter from Europe caused a rear-end collision in Massachusetts.  The plaintiff suffered serious neck injuries and claimed that the accident caused fetal demise, terminating her eight week pregnancy.  The renter was not served with the suit, and the case against him was dismissed.  The remaining defendant was the rental car company.  Although the plaintiff alleged that the rental car company had acted negligently in renting the vehicle and that the rental car company should be liable for the gross negligence alleged against the European operator, we obtained summary judgment for the rental car company based upon Massachusetts statutes and case law. 

Summary judgment – no negligent entrustment or negligent supervision.  A couple who suffered serious personal injuries in an automobile accident caused by an intoxicated adult teenage driver sued the teen driver’s parents for failing to list their son’s automobile on their homeowner’s umbrella policy, for failing to supervise their son, and for negligent entrustment.  We obtained summary judgment on all counts, establishing that the parents owed no duty to the plaintiff to insure their son, and that they had no duty to supervise the conduct of their adult son.