Legal Memorandum: Superseding Actions of Third Parties in MA

Issue: Under Massachusetts law, is it considered unforeseeable on the part of a business owner that a patron would go back out onto the ice after he had already fallen once, thus making the event a superseding cause?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Superseding cause; Comparative negligence statute
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts
Cited Cases: 658 N.E.2d 173; 186 N.E. 669; 493 N.E.2d 206; 589 N.E.2d 335; 358 N.E.2d 788; 525 N.E.2d 375; 449 N.E.2d 331; 507 N.E.2d 662
Cited Statutes: Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 85
Date: 05/01/2000

           Under the Massachusetts comparative negligence statute (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 85) the terms “supervening cause,” “supervening negligence,” “superseding cause,” and “intervening cause” are used almost exclusively in connection with superseding actions of third parties.  However, the concept (if not the terminology) lives on in those rare cases where the actions of the plaintiff are so absurd as to be unforeseeable and so unlikely to occur in the normal course of events that they serve to break the chain of proximate cause.  See, e.g., Bratton v. Rudnick, 283 Mass. 556, 186 N.E. 669 (1933). 

One such case is Weeks v. Calnan, 39 Mass. App. Ct. 933, 658 N.E.2d 173 (1995).  The plaintiff in Weeks was injured when she attempted to move furniture out of her house, after her landlord had failed to remove it as promised.  The court held that while it may be foreseeable that she would attempt to remove the unwanted furniture from her house, it was not foreseeable that she would attempt to move it unaided and in the manner in which she did.  Affirming a summary judgment for the defendant, the court held that attempting to move the furniture, unassisted as she did, constituted an independent, intervening force that broke the chain of causation. 

In Morgan v. Lalumiere, 22 Mass. App. Ct. 262, 493 N.E.2d 206, 210 (1986), the court described negligence, in connection with the plaintiff’s actions, as “the failure […]

Subscribe to Litigation Pathfinder

To get the full-text of this Legal Memorandum ... and more!

(Month-to-month and annual subscriptions available)