Massachusetts Wrongful Death Case Arising from Shooting of Mentally Ill Man Dismissed on Summary Judgment

When someone causes the death of another person through an act of negligence or conduct that is considered to be willful, wanton, or reckless, the wrongdoer may be held liable through a Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit. Of course, liability will not apply in every instance in which one person is responsible for the death of another, as there are several legal defenses to a civil lawsuit claiming wrongful death.

If the defendant believes that he or she has a defense to the plaintiff’s claims such that a finding of liability would be improper, he or she may file a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s case. The trial court must then decide whether the plaintiff’s case should be dismissed or should proceed to trial.

Facts of the Case

In a recently reported case, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a man who was killed by the defendant state trooper during an incident in 2013. The decedent had a long history of mental illness and sometimes failed to comply with doctor’s orders regarding the taking of his prescription medication. On the day of the incident at issue, the decedent had allegedly been traveling erratically along a multi-lane state highway before coming to a stop on the side of the road. Another motorist called 911, and the defendant trooper responded to the call during which the decedent was shot.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the trooper and other individual, asserting a claim for wrongful death under the Massachusetts Wrongful Death Statute, codified as Massachusetts General Laws chapter 229. The plaintiff further alleged that the trooper had used excessive force during the altercation with the decedent. The trooper filed a motion for summary judgment.

The Court’s Decision

The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted summary judgment to the defendant trooper. Noting that the wrongful death claim filed by the plaintiff was derivative of the excessive force claim, the court reviewed statements by several witnesses to the altercation before concluding that the trooper had not used unreasonable force and that, even assuming for the sake of argument that the force was unreasonable, he was entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable, similarly situated trooper would not have understood the defendant’s conduct to be in violation of the decedent’s rights.

In so holding, the court found that, even if reasonable individuals would have wondered if the decedent was mentally troubled, a similarly situated officer would have concluded that the decedent posed an imminent threat to the defendant trooper as well as to himself and others.

Consult a Cape Cod Injury Attorney for Legal Advice

The loss of a family member caused by another’s negligent or reckless conduct can be one of life’s most pain experiences. In addition to the emotional difficulty and heartache, a loved one’s death can also cause serious financial hardship for those left behind. Fortunately, there are laws designed to protect the families of those who lose their lives due to others’ negligent actions. If you need to talk to an experienced Cape Cod wrongful death attorney, please call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664 for a free consultation regarding your case. Please be mindful that the statute of limitations requires that a claim be filed within a certain time period following a wrongful death, so please do not delay in seeking legal advice.

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