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Wrongful Death Actions in Massachusetts: Slip and Fall Accidents

Scenario: a young woman walked into an Italian restaurant to meet her significant other for dinner. As she proceeded to the table to eat, she slipped and fell on the floor. Unfortunately, two hours prior to her arrival, one of the waiters spilled olive oil on the dark wood flooring of the restaurant. The waiter who had spilled the olive oil intended to return to clean the mess but was called to the kitchen, and then he essentially forgot about it. The olive oil on the floor was not obvious, and there were no cones or signs to warn patrons. The woman wore ordinary rubber-sole ballet flats, and she was paying attention to her path toward her table. In fact, she was escorted to walk toward her table by a hostess. As she fell, the woman hit her head on the corner of a beam in the restaurant. Blood rushed to her head, and she later died.

The family of the woman who died in this case may sue the restaurant for wrongful death. In Massachusetts, when someone negligently causes the death of another, the family of the deceased victim may sue and possibly recover compensation against the person who caused the death. The law also allows the family of the deceased victim to recover against the wrongdoer if the one who caused the death did so by performing a willful, wanton, or reckless act. Slip and fall cases may not be the most common wrongful death cases because a death is required in a slip and fall case – although not always likely, these incidents do happen.

Another scenario: a college student named Jim lived in college housing with others in his college graduating class. One early morning, at 3 AM, several of Jim’s friends became intoxicated and plastered the floor outside of Jim’s college dorm room with a slippery lotion. Hoping to cause Jim to fall because Jim had not partied with them that evening, the intoxicated students waited for Jim to emerge from his room. Instead, Jim remained in his room until around 9 AM. As a college athlete, Jim did not have time to party the night before. As he was leaving his room to go to his morning team practice, Jim slipped and fell on the floor. Jim had a medical condition. As such, when he fell, the impact of his fall eventually caused his death. In this circumstance, the family of Jim may file a wrongful death claim against the students for their reckless behavior and the college for negligence leading to Jim’s death on the campus.

Suppose in the college example above that Jim had not fallen but instead, a member of the cleaning staff in the dormitory had fallen and died. Would the family of the cleaning staff member be empowered to make a claim for wrongful death? The answer is “yes.” Although the intention was to cause Jim to fall, a family member of the any deceased person from a slip and fall can make the claims. The intended victim does not necessarily matter. In addition, the fact that the college students were not sober may not have any impact toward the merit of a wrongful death claim, because the students were reckless and wilful in their action to cover the floor with a substance that would lead to the fall, and could lead to the death, of another person. The facts above do not indicate that anyone was wearing improper footwear or not paying attention. In addition, there was no obvious condition or signs warning either Jim or the cleaning staff member of the impeding hazard.

Wrongful death claims are made by surviving spouses or relatives. Wrongful death claims allege that the wrongdoer or wrongdoers are liable for the death of their family member or members. 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 or other reasonable expenses associated with the death of the person. In Massachusetts, if someone passes away as a result of their wrongful death, the surviving spouse or family may also recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the negligent actor for wrongful conduct. In these cases, punitive damages may be especially important if the wrongdoer was reckless or willful in his or her actions.

If you are seeking a competent personal injury law lawyer or wrongful death action 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 promptly.

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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