Corporate Liability Blog

Eight Favorable Laws In The Plaintiffs’ Toolbox

  • 08/14/10
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Studies suggest that juries most often return verdicts in favor of tort defendants in Massachusetts. But, Massachusetts plaintiffs and their lawyers have some laws for which they can be thankful. Laws providing for strict liability, multiple or punitive damages, 12% prejudgment interest and attorney’s fees help to balance the scales of justice.

PREJUDGMENT INTEREST

G.L. ch. 231 sec. 2B, providing prejudgment interest at the rate of 12% per year, is perhaps the most plaintiff friendly law in Massachusetts. Because most civil cases in Superior Court take at least 3 or 4 years to reach trial, this law punishes defendants for delaying the resolution of cases that are found to have merit and compensates plaintiffs who are forced to wait long for justice.

CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT

Chapter 93A, Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, has broad application to unfair and deceptive business practices. With its provision for up to treble damages, plus attorney’s fees to prevailing plaintiff’s, this law has juice, especially in cases involving more than one defendant. Where more than one defendant violates ch. 93A, each defendant is potentially liable for a separate award of punitive damages. International Fidelity Insurance Company v. Wilson, 387 Mass. 841, 859 (1983). This can lead to exponential increases in the defendants’ collective liability.

LANDLORD TENANT LAWS

Massachusetts law almost never favors landlords. Landlords are subject to a host of regulations under Massachusetts Sanitary Code, Building Code, local Noise Control Ordinances and strict laws protecting tenants security deposits and their quiet use and enjoyment. The warranty of habitability provides for strict liability for substantial violations of the state sanitary code, and G.L. ch. 186 sec. 14 provides for liability where landlords negligently or intentionally interfere with tenant’s quiet use and enjoyment. Ch. 186 sec. 14 provides for payment of the tenant’s reasonable attorney’s fees. The final kicker in most landlord tenant cases is that violations of either 186 sec. 14 or the warranty of habitability also subject landlords to liability¬†under the¬†Consumer Protection Act, ch. 93A, with its potential for multiple damages.

FEDERAL AND STATE FALSE CLAIMS ACTS

Under both the federal and state false claims acts, whistleblowers can reap huge windfalls by helping the government to uncover fraudulent practices. In False Claims Act cases, whistleblowers can file suit on behalf of the government when they uncover fraud by state or federal contractors. For example, a typical case in New York, resulted in a doctor and a patient receiving 10 million dollars when they uncovered billing fraud by a nursing home. False Claims Act case often involve fraudulent billing of the defense department, fraudulent billing of the federal government for medicaid or medicare, and fraud by construction contractors on the state government. With its active defense industry, health care industry and state construction contracting industry, Massachusetts has a favorable environment for plaintiffs alleging violations of the False Claims Acts.

FAIR EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES ACT

Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Law, ch. 151B, provides unusually strong protection to employees who are subjected to discrimination. Ch. 151B has strict prohibitions against unequal treatment, harassment and retaliation, and it provides liberally for the payment of punitive damages and employee’s reasonable attorney’s fees. In cases of sexual and racial harassment by supervisors, employers are strictly liable. Massachusetts probably has the strongest anti-discrimination law in the world.

WRONGFUL DEATH ACT

Massachusetts Wrongful Death Act, ch. 229, sec. 2, protects one of the most important rights, the right not to be wrongfully deprived of life. Where defendants are negligent, it authorizes the recovery of a wide range of compensatory damages. Where defendants are engage in malicious, willful, wanton, reckless or grossly negligent conduct, punitive damages may be recovered.

WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY

Massachusetts consumers have strong protections against manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and retailers that put dangerously defective products into the stream of commerce. The warranty of merchantability gives consumers a right to sue for damages when the vehicles, drugs and other products that they purchase or use are dangerously defective. Violations of the warranty of merchantability are also considered to be violations of ch. 93A, the Consumer Protection Act.

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