Legal Memorandum: Wrongful Death Damages in MA

Issue: Can medical expenses be recovered as an element of damages in a wrongful death action pursuant to Mass. Laws ch. 229,  2?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Wrongful-death damages; Wrongful-death action; Medical expenses
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts
Cited Cases: 550 F. Supp. 589; 499 N.E.2d 1189; 182 N.E.2d 519
Cited Statutes: Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 229, § 2 (Law. Co-op 1986 & Supp. 2000), Chapter 229, § 6A
Date: 08/01/2000

As a matter of statutory construction, Mass. Laws ch. 229, § 2 (1986 & Supp. 2000) must be read as listing the kinds of damage that may be recoverable in a wrongful-death action.  Section 2 states that wrongful-death damages shall include three kinds of damages: (1) compensatory damages relating to decedent’s “fair monetary value”; (2) funeral and burial expenses; and (3) punitive damages of at least $5000.  Id.  The most logical place for medical expenses to be listed if they were recoverable is between the compensatory damages and the funeral/burial expenses.  But since medical expenses are not specifically listed, they cannot be recovered. 

In Massachusetts a wrongful-death recovery is not an asset of the decedent’s probate estate.  It is viewed as a statutory trust fund, with the administrator as trustee responsible for distributing the proceeds to the statutory beneficiaries.  Sullivan v. Goulette, 344 Mass. 307, 182 N.E.2d 519 (1962).  Chapter 229, § 6A amply demonstrates that point.  It provides that when the decedent’s estate is insufficient to pay “the charges of administration and funeral expenses . . . , all medical and hospital expenses necessitated by the injury which caused the death, . . . reasonable attorneys’ fees and reasonable costs and expenses of suit,” the amount of those expenses that cannot be paid from the estate must be paid from the wrongful-death recovery. 

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court states that when a claim arises from common law, the death statute sets forth the procedure and recovery.   See Hallett v. Town of […]

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