A recent decision from the Massachusetts Appeals Court outlined what plaintiffs must show when they bring suit against another person. In Alford v. Department of Transportation, the plaintiffs (injured parties) were driving along Route 1A when they hit a patch of snow and crashed into a roadside barrier on the ramp to the Massachusetts Turnpike. The plaintiffs brought a suit against the Department of Transportation for failing to adequately plow the roadway.
Although the plaintiffs were unable to remember details about the accident, the police officer who investigated the accident testified to important details. The officer testified that, based on his investigation, the plaintiff-driver lost control of the vehicle and crashed after contacting heavy snow on the ramp. This snow patch was approximately two feet wide, six to twelve inches deep, and extended across two lanes to the roadside barrier. A supervisor from the DOT testified that the road on which the plaintiffs crashed had just been plowed and salted before the crash. A trial court judge granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant – in other words, the trial court judge believed the undisputed facts of the case showed that the injured plaintiffs were not entitled to any compensation as a matter of law. The plaintiffs then appealed.
Elements of Negligence in Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Appeals Court found that the trial judge had made an erroneous decision and reversed the ruling, sending the case back to the trial court. In doing so, the Appeals Court restated the elements that a plaintiff must show in a negligence suit: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a “duty of care”; (2) the defendant breached that duty of care; (3) the plaintiff was injured; and (4) the defendant’s breach of the duty of care (the defendant’s negligence) was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. As to the “causation” requirement (element (4)), the Appeals Court said: “The plaintiffs must show that there was a greater likelihood or probability that the harm complained of was due to causes for which the defendant was responsible than from any other cause . . ..”
In finding that the plaintiffs had met their burden of showing causation, the Appeals Court noted the testimony of the officer who had stated that snow remained on the roadway despite the recent plowing of the road. Also significant was that the driver had not been cited by the officer for the crash. Finally, there was no evidence that anything other than snow contributed to the crash. The Appeals Court found that the Department could be found to be negligent in failing to plow the roadway and that this negligence caused the plaintiffs’ crash and subsequent injuries. As a result, the Appeals Court determined that the case should proceed to trial.
Important Steps to Take When You Are Involved in a Car Accident
As you can see, it is important that you take certain steps after a car accident, as far as you are able to. Of course it is important that you first get treated for any serious injuries and that you not endanger yourself or others, but taking these steps can help bolster a personal injury case:
· Get the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident;
· Get the name of the investigating officer and a copy of the police report;
· Take pictures of the accident scene; and
· Write down as soon as possible your recollection of the events leading to the crash.