Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Judgment in Car Accident Case

A woman filed suit on behalf of her daughters, based on a a Massachusetts car accident that occurred in December 2010. The defendant was driving a tractor-trailer owned by the co-defendant when he rear-ended the plaintiff’s car. The defendants conceded liability, and the trial proceeded strictly on the issue of damages. The jury returned a verdict of $6,749.29 to the woman, $6,414.70 to one daughter, and no damages to the other daughter. The plaintiffs moved to set aside the jury verdict and for a new trial, both of which were denied.

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The plaintiffs appealed, arguing:  (1) the trial judge abused her discretion in refusing to continue the trial when co-counsel withdrew after jury empanelment; (2) the trial judge wrongfully excluded the plaintiffs’ revised medical records; (3) the trial judge wrongfully admitted certain medical records offered by the defendants; and (4) there was ineffective assistance of counsel. The Massachusetts Appeals Court rejected these arguments and affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

The appeals court first considered the plaintiffs’ claim that the judge abused her discretion in denying their motion for a continuance and “forcing” them to trial without adequate assistance of counsel. After jury empanelment, “lead counsel’s” renewed motion to withdraw was permitted due to what he described as an ethical conflict. The judge then stated her intention to dismiss the case for want of prosecution if the plaintiffs did not go forward without him. The plaintiffs did not object to the judge’s decision at that time. Since they raised the issue for the first time on appeal, the appeals court explained that the argument was waived.

Either way, the court found that it was not an abuse of discretion for the judge to require the plaintiffs to go forward with their two remaining attorneys, who had been counsel of record from the beginning of the case and who also had been actively involved throughout discovery and pretrial proceedings. The judge concluded that since the plaintiff’s behavior had triggered the ethical issue that prompted the attorney’s withdrawal, she should not be rewarded with a continuance.

The plaintiffs next argued that the judge erred in excluding certain of the plaintiff’s medical records that had been amended shortly before trial and in admitting records submitted by the defendants that did not comply with G. L. c. 233, § 79G. In rejecting the first argument, the appeals court held that the records that the plaintiffs offered had been amended recently by the respective providers, at the plaintiff’s request, by attaching addenda containing information favorable to her case three to five years after the original records were generated. Notably, these addenda were made by an employee at each provider, rather than the original drafter, and served upon the defendants shortly before trial. Given these facts, the appeals court explained, the judge reasonably could have found that the evidence was not reliable, particularly since the revisions were made several years after the original reports were generated, for the purpose of trial, and by unknown persons who had not personally treated the plaintiff. Thus, the court saw no abuse of discretion.

The plaintiffs’ argument that the defendants’ documents were erroneously admitted pursuant to § 79G was also found to be without merit. Almost one month prior to trial, the defendants notified the plaintiffs by mail that they would be offering in evidence certain medical records of the plaintiff. Since the defendants’ submission complied with the statutory safeguards provided in § 79G, the appeals court held the trial judge did not err in admitting the records in evidence.

Finally, for the first time on appeal, the plaintiffs claimed ineffective assistance of counsel. The appeals court rejected this claim because, as a general rule, there is no right to effective assistance of counsel in civil cases.

If you or a loved one was unlawfully harmed by another party’s negligence, you may need the assistance of a car accident lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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