INSIGHTS On Massachusetts Personal Injury Law

Welcome to the SUGARMAN blog. We'll be sharing our perspectives on the state of the law and current legal issues in Massachusetts personal injury law. Issues relating to medical malpractice, construction site injuries, premises liability, product liability, motor vehicle accidents, insurance, and more will all be reviewed here by our team of lawyers who have prosecuted some of the most complex cases in Massachusetts personal injury law.

Articles Posted in Punitive Damages

Published on:

When personal injury lawsuits are discussed, whether in casual conversation or in media coverage of jury verdicts, the subject of punitive damages inevitably surfaces.  Whatever feelings people may have for or against punitive damages, the facts and the legal theory behind them are often poorly understood.  This blog will attempt to give an overview of punitive damages in personal injury cases in Massachusetts.

First, what are punitive damages?  A person who has suffered personal injuries or death at the hands of someone else’s negligence is entitled to what are known as compensatory damages.  These are damages that are expressly designed to compensate a person for things like lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering.  They are not designed to punish the negligent party; they are literally meant to compensate, or pay the injured party back, for their losses. 

Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages,  are designed to punish a person or corporation for wrongful conduct that has harmed someone, and to deter similar conduct in the future.  The theory behind punitive damages is that, in some instances, simply repaying a person for what they have lost is not enough.  The law says what we all intuitively understand in our day to day lives: that there is a level of misconduct which, if proven, warrants both punishment and deterrence of similar conduct in the future.   

What many people may not know is that punitive damages are simply not available in most personal injury cases in Massachusetts.  This dates back to very old Massachusetts law that did not provide for punitive damages, no matter how negligent the conduct and no matter how bad the injuries.  That law remains in effect today.  Even the drunk driver of a dynamite truck who runs a red light and hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk rendering them quadriplegic is not subject to punitive damages in Massachusetts. 
Continue reading

Published on:

Many times a client will ask for a lawyer’s opinion regarding what a personal injury claim is worth. Answering this seemingly simple question can be a complex legal analysis of available parties, potential injury claims, legal liability and the unique way in which each plaintiff suffers harm. At its essence, the value of a personal injury claim is what a jury in the county where the case is filed is likely to award at the conclusion of a trial, factoring in the likelihood that the plaintiff will prevail. The first step in this analysis is understanding what damages a jury may permissibly assess.

With very limited exceptions primarily dealing with Wrongful Death claims, Massachusetts’ law allows juries to award only Compensatory Damages” to personal injury victims. Compensatory damages provide a plaintiff with the monetary amount necessary to replace what was lost, and nothing more. The purpose of Compensatory Damages is to place the plaintiff in the same position as if no wrong had been done to him/her by the defendant. Other states allow juries to award “Punitive Damages” in personal injury claims. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish a defendant for his or her conduct as a deterrent to the future commission of such act. In Massachusetts, Punitive Damages in personal injury cases are recoverable only for Wrongful Death resulting from gross negligence and/or willful, wanton or reckless acts. This means that in the vast majority of personal injury cases in Massachusetts, the focus for determining damages needs to be on what the plaintiff lost, not on the conduct of the defendant. It is the role of the attorney to determine how each individual plaintiff has been specifically harmed by the defendant’s conduct and what monetary amount would properly compensate those unique circumstances.
Continue reading