Massachusetts Court of Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment for School District Following Field Hockey Player’s Governmental Tort Liability Lawsuit

When the defendant in a Cape Cod personal injury case is a governmental entity, the plaintiff faces an uphill battle. There was a time – back before there were any exceptions to the doctrine of sovereign immunity – when the plaintiff could not recover compensation at all. Now, however, the issue of whether the government has waived sovereign immunity in a particular situation can be a subject of great dispute.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was a high school athlete (joined in the lawsuit by members of her family) who suffered a concussion and other injuries after being hit by a field hockey stick wielded by a teammate during a practice session. She filed suit against the defendant school district, seeking compensation under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. More specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent in failing to properly train and supervise coaches and students, in not monitoring the plaintiff’s injuries in an appropriate fashion, and in not implementing a written academic re-entry plan following her injuries.

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, and the trial court granted the motion on the basis that the defendant was insulated from liability under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258 § 10(j).

The Court’s Holding on the Issues

The appellate court affirmed, holding that, despite the serious injuries suffered by the plaintiff, her claims were barred by § 10(j) and did not come within the saving provision of § 10(j)(2). After acknowledging that the case fell within an area of the law best described as an “interpretive quagmire,” the court noted that, despite numerous changes over the years, Massachusetts law still affords public employers significant protection from tort liability. Only when the claim is based on injuries “originally caused” by the public employer or employer will liability be appropriate.

In the case at bar, the plaintiff argued that the injuries suffered in the field hockey accident were originally caused by a decision of one of the defendant’s employees to allow an untrained volunteer to introduce a novel, close-quarters drill. The appellate court declined to so hold, finding that the negligence alleged by the plaintiff was lack of supervision and inadequate instruction, both of which were omissions rather than the type of affirmative act required by the applicable statute.

While the court was sympathetic to the injuries suffered by the plaintiff, it stated that “the proper remedy lies with the Legislature,” and there was no justification for “judicial legislation.”

Experienced Injury Attorney Serving Cape Cod

If you have been injured by another party’s negligence, the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can help you understand your legal rights and help you get started on asserting a claim against the responsible party. To schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable Cape Cod personal injury attorney, call us at 888-262-6664. There is no charge for the consultation, and many of our personal injury cases are handled on a contingency fee basis.

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