Articles Tagged with Municipal Liability

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under-construction-1268302-mOn May 31 2005, Tom Filepp was riding his bicycle on Harvard Street in Brookline, Massachusetts when he had an unfortunate accident due to the condition of the pavement. Specifically, he was pedaling his bicycle and encountered a “rut” in the pavement that caused his bicycle, and him, to turn over. Mr. Filepp suffered serious and severe personal injuries as a result. He promptly provided notice to the City of Brookline of the injuries he sustained. Subsequently, it was discovered that the Boston Gas Company was the responsible party as the corporation created the defect in pavement that caused Mr. Filepp’s accident.

Mr. Filepp was forced to file suit against the Boston Gas Company for claims predicated on negligence. The Defendant corporation asked the court to dismiss the case arguing that there were no material facts in dispute that rise to a triable level, and as a result, the Defendant should be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Defendant argued that Mr. Filepp, the Plaintiff, failed to give notice to the Defendant within 30 days of his accident. Under Massachusetts General Laws c. 84, § 18, a person injured due to a defect on a public way must send notice within thirty days after the injury to the, “county, city, town or person by law obliged to keep said way in repair.” As a result, because the Plaintiff failed to notify the Boston Gas Company, the organization obliged by law to maintain the parcel of land, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s case. Plaintiff appealed.  Continue reading →

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snow-covered-street-685491-mThe start of 2014 has brought an extreme cold wave, known as a Polar Vortex, that has plagued the United States. Individuals from the Midwest to New England have been greatly impacted by this weather pattern. Snow has been falling in record amounts, falling faster than it can be dealt with, and the bitter cold has made it unbearable to be exposed to the outdoors for an extended period of time. This accumulation, coupled with periods of warmth, are a dangerous combination. After the snow melts and creates pools of water on sidewalks and roadways, the menacing mother nature of New England blows in and freezes these water sources. The result creates hazardous conditions for pedestrians who utilize public sidewalks and roadways.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 84, Section 15, provides the exclusive remedy against a city or town for injuries or damages caused by a defect in or upon a public way. Typically, if one is injured as a result of a defect on a sidewalk or roadway owned or operated by a city or town, there is a limited recovery of $5,000.00. Generally, a person’s right of recovery will be governed by this law if:

  1. he/she sustained “bodily injury or damage in his property . . .”;

  2. “by reason of a defect or a want of repair or a want of sufficient railing . . .”;

  3. while traveling;

  4. “in or upon a [public] way … .”

A “defect” is anything in the state or condition of the way that renders it unsafe or inconvenient for ordinary travel. This is not to say that the road or sidewalk need to be in perfect condition, but rather, reasonably safe. Imperfections in the road or sidewalk are considered to be expected and travelers should be aware of this. A defect may be a pothole, a roadway design, or a broken tree. However, snow or ice is NOT considered to be a defect. Under Chapter 84, section 17, “a municipality shall not be held liable for injuries sustained upon a public way due to snow or ice if, at the time of the accident, the way was otherwise “reasonably safe and convenient for travelers.” Put another way, if a traveler falls due to the snow or ice, he or she cannot typically recover against the municipality. Continue reading →

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Millions of children take ride the bus to school each day, usually without incident. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that school buses are the safest way for children to get to and from school. As safe as these vehicles are, thousands of kids are injured in school bus accidents each year, sometimes seriously. This issue hit close to home earlier this week, as three teenage students at Natick’s Brandon School and Residential Treatment Center were injured when their bus collided with a minivan on Monday. According to a report published by the MetroWest Daily News, authorities indicated that their injuries were minor, and that both drivers would likely be cited as a result of the incident.

School bus accidents raise several legal issues that may not be present in a car accident case involving private parties. For one, school buses are often operated by private companies or by a municipality itself, both of which may bring up issues of who could be held liable, as well as if a party could be held liable at all. In the case of a private school bus operator, the legal doctrine of respondeat superior may come into play. Under this doctrine, an employer is liable for the tortious conduct of its employee if it occurs within the normal course of business. What this means is that if a school bus driver negligently caused an accident, the company that hired the bus driver could potentially be held liable for any losses that resulted.

If the school bus is operated by a municipality or the state, sovereign immunity may limit or even bar a lawsuit against the operator. Sovereign immunity means that the government or its units may not be sued unless it has consented to be sued. Fortunately for school bus accident victims, the state of Massachusetts has consented to lawsuits against itself and its subdivisions through the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, albeit to certain liability limits.

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