Massachusetts Appellate Court Says Lower Tribunal Should Not Have Entered Separate and Final Judgment in Tenant’s Suit Against Landlord and Appliance Store Following Explosion

It is not unusual for a Cape Cod premises liability, personal injury, or other negligence-based lawsuit to involve multiple claims against multiple defendants. When this happens, a plaintiff may opt to settlement some claims against some parties, while the remaining claims proceed to trial. The procedural hurdles involved in such a situation must be carefully followed, in order to preserve the legal rights of all those involved.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a tenant who sued his landlord and an appliance store, after a stove in his apartment exploded, severely burning the tenant’s right hand. The tenant’s claims against the landlord included negligence, vicarious liability for the store’s negligence, breach of the implied warranty of habitability, and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Against the store, the plaintiff sought compensation for negligence, breach of contract as a third-party beneficiary, violation of Massachusetts General Law ch. 93A, and strict liability. Various third-party and cross-claims were also filed in the lawsuit.

The tenant and the store entered into a settlement for $15,000. Without the tenant’s assent, the store filed a motion for entry of a separate and final judgment pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). The landlord opposed the motion. After a hearing, the trial court approved the settlement and ordered the entry of a separate and final judgment dismissing the tenant’s claims against the store. The landlord appealed.

The Ruling of the Appellate Court

On appeal, the landlord contended that the trial court had erred in entering the separate and final judgment for the store, insisting that such relief was inappropriate because his cross-claim overlapped factually and legally with the tenant’s dismissed claims against the store and because the trial court judge had not made an express finding that there was no just reason for delay. The Massachusetts Appeals Court agreed with the store’s arguments, vacated the certification and entry of the separate and final judgment pursuant to Rule 54 (b), and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In so holding, the court acknowledged that, although the trial court judge had properly acknowledged that Massachusetts General Laws ch. 231B, § 4(b) (which discharges a tortfeasor to whom a good faith release is given from all liability for contribution to any other tortfeasor) did not impair any right of indemnity under existing law, the judge had went on to state that the landlord was not entitled to indemnification from the store because the landlord was “not without fault” for the tenant’s injuries. According to the appellate court, the allegations in the tenant’s complaint presented different legal theories of recovery arising from the same factual scenario; thus, there was a single claim, not multiple ones, for purposes of Rule 54. In this situation, it was error for the trial court judge to grant the Rule 54(b) certification.

Contact an Injury Attorney in Cape Cod

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury, such as a burn injury, you should talk to an attorney as soon as you can. There are many steps to pursuing fair compensation in a Massachusetts personal injury case. Thus, it is important to get started on your claim sooner rather than later, so that important deadlines are not missed. For a free consultation about your case, contact Cape Cod premises liability attorney John C. Manoog III, today at 888-262-6664.

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