Dismissal of Wrongful Death Suit Against Homeowners on Summary Judgment Affirmed by Massachusetts Court of Appeals

When someone is killed while working on another’s property, those left behind may wish to consider the possibility of filing a Cape Cod wrongful death lawsuit. Of course, the likelihood of success in such a case depends very much on the particular circumstances of the decedent’s passing.

If the personal representative of the decedent’s estate is able to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant owed the decedent a legal duty, that this duty was breached, and that the decedent’s death was a proximate result of the defendant’s breach of duty, then the decedent’s estate may be entitled to substantial compensation for the decedent’s wrongful death.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent appellate case was the personal representative of the estate of a man who died after suffering a fall while making repairs to a three-story home that belonged to two of the defendants. The plaintiff also named a relative of one of the homeowners as a defendant; this individual was allegedly involved in the decision to hire the decedent to make the repairs that led to the decedent’s death. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the defendants did not supply the decedent with any safety equipment, nor did they apply for a building permit with regard to the work that was to be done. The decedent fell to his death when a ladder, lent to him by his brother, shifted.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed.

How the Case Was Decided on Appeals

On appeal, the defendants argued that the trial court had been correct in granting summary judgment to them because, first, they did not owe any legal duty to the decedent, and, second, even if a duty was owed, they did not breach this duty, and, third, even if they breached a duty that was owed to the decedent, this breach of duty was not the proximate cause of the decedent’s death.

The appellate court began its analysis by acknowledging that the question of whether or not a duty was owed in a certain situation was a question of law – and thus an appropriate inquiry for summary judgment. The court of appeals then expressed disagreement with the trial court, stating that all landowners (and, arguably by extension, an agent of the landowners such as the relative named as a co-defendant in the case at bar) owed a duty of reasonable care to all persons lawfully on their premises. Although there were some exceptions to this general rule, the appellate court opined that none of those exceptions applied here.

However, the appellate court went on to affirm the lower court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the defendants had breached the duty owed to the decedent. Although the plaintiff argued that the defendants should have provided safety equipment to the decedent, the court agreed with the defendants that there was no evidence from which the fact finder could infer that the decedent indicated to the homeowners that he did not already have access to the necessary equipment. With regard to the defendants’ failure to obtain a building permit, the court agreed that there could have been a breach of duty but went on to conclude that the plaintiff’s case nevertheless failed on the issue of causation, the evidence as to such being speculative at best.

Call a Lawyer in Cape Cod

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one and believe that another’s negligence was to blame, you should talk to an attorney as soon as possible. Strict filing deadlines apply in these types of cases, and failure to file a timely claim may likely result in dismissal of your complaint. To schedule a free consultation with a Cape Cod wrongful death lawyer, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664 today.

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