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Wrongful Death Actions in Massachusetts

Imagine that employees of a construction company worked with a subcontractor to install various fixtures in a house. The subcontractor installed a stainless steel railing, but failed to do so completely and in a non-negligent manner. The subcontractor did not properly affix all of screws attached to the railing. As a result, the next day, an employee painter grabbed onto the faulty rail. Due to the negligence on the part of the subcontractor, the faulty rail fell from the wall and did not catch the employee painter. Within moments, the painter hit his head and suffered serious injuries. Later, he succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. The sole cause of his death was due to the injuries that he sustained in the accident.

When a negligent action or inaction leads to the wrongful death of a person, Massachusetts law allows the family of the deceased to bring a wrongful death claim against the defendant alleged wrongdoer.

Wrongful death claims may be brought against an individual, multiple individuals, or a corporation. Wrongful death claims may arise from the passing of someone in an automobile accident, or as a result of a fatal slip-and-fall incident. Additionally, these actions may be the result of someone who passes away from a pharmaceutical drug or negligent care from a physician or hospital. These claims, among others, enable the surviving spouse or family member(s) to obtain compensation for the untimely death of the deceased.

Based on the above facts, the wife of the painter may recover under a wrongful death action. If the wife wants to recover under a theory of wrongful death against the subcontractor, she must prove that the subcontractor directly caused the death. Under agency principles of law, the wife may also pursue claims against the subcontractor’s company and the construction company. If the faulty rail is the cause of the subcontractor’s death, the wife may also have a products liability action against the company that makes the faulty rail.

There are various types of losses or damages involved. The wife in the above example could claim the loss of her husband’s financial support. Because he passed away, the wife lost both his income and the income that he would have made for the rest of his life.

Additionally, the wife lost her husband and the happiness that being with him brought to her. Although there is no amount of money that could ever fully compensate the love and companionship shared between two spouses or members of a family, Massachusetts law allows a surviving spouse to claim a loss of companion action against a negligent party. This means that the negligent party should compensate the surviving family for the happiness and love that the deceased person gave to the family.

Although difficult to discuss and tragic to consider, Massachusetts law may also provide surviving family members the option to obtain payment for costs accumulated as a result of the death, such as funeral expenses.

In Massachusetts, if someone passes away within the wrongful death action context, the surviving spouse or family may also recover punitive damages in a wrongful death action. Punitive damages are intended to punish the negligent party for wrongful conduct.

But what about when the death of the victim does not result directly from the defendant’s actions? In the above example, suppose that the painter’s injuries from the fall were not life threatening and that he recovered in the hospital. Shortly before he was due to be released as an outpatient in the hospital, a nurse gave the painter a medicine to which he was highly allergic since childhood. His allergy to the medicine was listed as a note in his online medical records. The nurse could have had access to his records, but she didn’t bother to look or inquire about his allergies. Legally, would the wife be able to recover under a theory of wrongful death against the construction company or the subcontractor?

While the wife is likely unable to recover from the construction company or subcontractor in this example, she might be able to recover from the hospital or the nurse, because the hospital or nurse (or supervising physicians prescribing the medication) should have taken the time to review his file. As a result, the hospital, nurse, or physicians are individually or collectively negligent, and the wife of the man could seek damages.

If you are seeking a competent personal injury law lawyer or family law attorney, please contact our offices by phone at 978-225-9030 during business hours or complete a contact form on our website. We will respond to your phone call or submission with prompt attention.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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