The victim of a Massachusetts rear end collision sued the driver and owner for his injuries. This was a case in which the defendant, Francisco, was traveling behind the victim, Harrington. As Ms. Harrington neared a tollbooth, Francisco’s vehicle struck the rear of the Harrington vehicle, resulting in an injury to Harrington.
For reasons we do not know, the plaintiff sued the defendant. This was in Superior Court in Worcester entitled Harrington v. Fransisco et. al (2012), Civil Action Number 2010-0743E). After discovery (interrogatories and depositions) Ms. Harrington’s personal injury trial lawyer moved for summary judgment against Francisco.
What is summary judgment? A motion for summary judgment is a pleading that lawyers on either side of a civil case can file. It is a formal written pleading that asks the judge to decide who wins (not how much, but who wins) based simply on the pleadings and discovery to date. Thus, in a Massachusetts personal injury lawsuit either party may file once they have sufficient information which they think complies with the summary judgment standard.
And what is the law on summary judgment standard? The moving party, Ms. Harrington in this case, must show to the judge that looking at the evidence in the best light to the defendant, Francisco, could a rational person (jury) find any genuine issue of material fact?
Here, the evidence was that Ms. Harrington was slowing for the toll. Fransisco says that Harrington stopped short; and therefore is “comparatively negligent” which is a typical “defense” by defendants. However, Judge Ricciardone, sitting in Worcester Superior Court, found that if Francisco had simply left more room, kept a proper lookout and maintained sufficient space between his truck and the Harrington vehicle, he would have avoided the collision. Wherefore, “no rational view of the evidence permits a finding of [comparative] negligence” against Harrington.
Furthermore, since Francisco was driving his company’s vehicle, Logistics, the owner of the vehicle, summary judgment against Logistics for vicarious liability was appropriate.
Why would the plaintiff’s lawyer move for summary judgment? Well, in this case, we don’t know, as we were not privy to the tactics. In my experience, after 27 years of trying cases in Massachusetts courts, we have undertaken this strategy many times. An experienced Massachusetts trial lawyer might move for summary judgment in a motor vehicle person injury case because it takes away the defense, as in this case, giving the case to the jury on the issue of damages only. The jury does not get to hear the defense of “she must have stepped on the brake.” The plaintiff’s lawyer gets to focus the whole trial on the amount of damages; the lost earnings, the medical bills, the pain, the suffering, the scarring and permanent injuries.
In Harrington v. Francisco, the Court also held that since Mr. Francisco was in the course of his employment, Logistics was responsible under the legal theory of respondeat superior in Massachusetts. Respondeat superior in the legal theory makes an employer responsible for the civil wrongs of its employee, when in the course of his employment, such as driving the truck.