Articles Posted in Negligent Supervision

A plaintiff, in his capacity as the personal representative of the estate of a victim, brought a Massachusetts nursing home negligence action against Park, Marion, and Vernon Streets Operating Company, LLC d/b/a Brookline Health Care Center (BHCC), and John Doe Physicians and Jane Doe Nurses. As alleged in the complaint, as a result of the defendants’ negligence, the victim choked to death when she was left unsupervised to eat in the dayroom of the assisted living facility in which she resided.

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The victim was admitted to BHCC in April 2012 for nursing care and rehabilitation after a hospitalization for seizures and falls, and she remained there until her death in May 2014. Throughout this period, she was deemed to be at risk for falls. Her medical records also indicated that she was on a soft diet, customized for her diabetes, and at variable times during her residency at the facility, she required continual supervision while eating, since she was at risk for aspiration. On the morning of May 7, 2014, a resident in the day room alerted the nurses to help the victim, who was holding her chest and in distress. A nurse’s note later in the day said that the victim was seen holding her neck and tapping on her chest and that she became unresponsive as she was being assessed by staff.

When ambulance personnel attempted to insert an endoctracheal tube, they had to remove a silver dollar-sized piece of food before they were able to successfully intubate her. The victim was pronounced dead upon her arrival at Beth Israel Hospital. The cause of death was respiratory distress, secondary to aspiration.

A recent case arose from a bicycle collision on the Cape Cod Rail Trail between a child on a supervised school field trip and a passing cyclist. The injured cyclist and his wife appealed from a Superior Court judgment entered on the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing their negligence claims against the town of Williamstown and others. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended that (1) the chaperones who supervised the field trip were not public employees and thus could be held personally liable for their negligence, and (2) the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (MTCA) did not preclude their claims against the town. The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment for the defendants in this Massachusetts bicycle accident case.

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The plaintiffs argued that the lower court erred when it concluded that the chaperones supervising the elementary school field trip were public employees as a matter of law. They suggested that the chaperones were independent contractors who had broad discretion in exercising their duties and therefore should not be afforded the liability protections provided by the MTCA.

The test for determining whether an individual is a public employee, the appeals court explained, is the same as that used to establish whether an agent is a servant for whose negligent acts a principal may be liable under the common law doctrine of respondeat superior. The basic question is whether a person is subject to the direction and control of a public employer.

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