Summary Judgment to Owner of Heavy Equipment Left Running in Parking Lot Was in Error, Says Massachusetts Appeals Court

In order to prevail on a claim that one has suffered personal injury, property damage, or a loved one’s wrongful death, the plaintiff in a Massachusetts negligence lawsuit must be able to prove four elements: duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation.

The question of whether causation exists in a given case is dependent, in part, on whether the injury that befell the plaintiff was reasonably foreseeable to the defendant under the facts of the case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent lawsuit between two businesses who shared a parking lot, the plaintiff alleged that one of the defendant’s employees left a piece of heavy-duty equipment unlocked, unattended, and running (with keys in the ignition) in the parties’ shared parking lot in the middle of the night and that an “unauthorized third-party” (i.e., a vandal) used the piece of equipment to inflict extensive damage on some of the plaintiff’s property.

The plaintiff sought compensation for the damage to its property, asserting that the defendant had been negligent. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that the third-party’s unauthorized use of the equipment was not reasonably foreseeable. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to the defendant. The plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Massachusetts court of appeals reversed the lower court’s entry of summary judgment for the defendant. While some elements of a negligence lawsuit (such as breach of duty and damages) are factual questions usually reserved for the jury, the question of proximate cause is a legal question appropriate for judicial inquiry. This includes the issue of whether the plaintiff has a reasonable expectation of proving, at trial, that his or her damages were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s breach of the duty of due care.

In disagreeing with the lower tribunal on the issue of foreseeability, the appellate court noted that large, heavy-duty vehicle involved in the case was capable of causing great damage in the hands of an inexperienced driver and that the defendant had failed to follow its usual practice of securing the equipment by hiding the keys even though there had been prior unauthorized entries onto the property. Under these circumstances, the appeals court ruled that a jury could find that it was reasonably foreseeable that the unlocked, unattended, running piece of equipment could be used to damage the plaintiff’s property, which the defendant knew was stored in the same parking lot.

Have You Been Adversely Affected by an Act of Negligence

Fortunately, no one was physically injured in the case discussed above. However, it’s easy to see how someone could have been seriously injured or even killed, had the person who used the piece of equipment to vandalize the plaintiff’s property chosen to taken the equipment away from the facility for an ill-advised “joy ride.” If you or your family has been hurt by someone else’s negligent or reckless conduct, please talk to a lawyer about your rights as soon as you can. To schedule an appointment with the personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, phone us 888-262-6664.

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