Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules for Plaintiff Injured by Motorized Airport Gate

Pursuant to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Donald Landry sued the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) and the city of Worcester for negligence regarding injuries sustained at the Worcester Regional Airport. Landry was pinned to a protruding metal bar by a motorized sliding gate.

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals held that the defendants were not entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiff had a factually supported theory of liability.

In June 2009, Landry drove to the airport to deliver clean uniforms to the maintenance department as part of his employment as a launderer. Once there, Landry received confirmation that he should proceed to gate 18. When he arrived, however, the gate was closed. A maintenance employee saw him and opened the gate. However, the gate did not open all the way. After roughly 40 seconds without moving, Landry began to walk sideways through the opening.

With Landry’s back to the gate, the gate suddenly began to move and pushed him into a 12-inch piece of iron that protruded from the gate post. Laundry sustained a fractured sternum and was unable to work for two months. When he returned, several maintenance employees told him that the remote control button had gotten stuck and that this had been an ongoing issue.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, first arguing that since Landry was injured due to a defect, the only statute that could provide Landry a remedy required 30 days’ notice, which Landry did not provide. The city further argued that it was entitled to summary judgment for the independent reason that it was not responsible for the way at issue. For these reasons, the defendants argued that they were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

The superior court denied summary judgment, concluding that the defendants had failed to establish that the site of the accident was a “way” and that there remained a genuine factual issue as to the city’s responsibility for the gate. The defendants appealed, and the Massachusetts Court of Appeals accepted discretionary review.

For the defendants to prevail, the appeals court explained, the injury must have occurred “by reason of a defect…in or upon a way.” However, the court continued, the record did not establish that the site of Landry’s injury was a “way.” While Landry testified that he traversed the gate on foot semi-regularly, it was not conclusively established that the place where he was trapped was a roadway, sidewalk, or travel lane. The defendants did not submit an affidavit or testimony concerning the accident site from anyone associated with the airport. Moreover, there were no photographs in the record to raise a question as to whether the gate simply marked the beginning of a restricted area used by the maintenance department for parking and storing their vehicles and equipment.

Either way, if the accident occurred on a way, Landry’s injury had to be sustained “by reason of” a “defect in or upon the way.” In this sense, it is not the location of the injury but instead the plaintiff’s theory of liability that renders the notice requirement unclear at best.

Here, the court reasoned, Landry had a factually supported theory of liability that his injury resulted not from a defect in the area where he was injured but instead from human agency — specifically, the negligent operation of the remote control by a person employed by the defendants. This negligent operation caused the sliding fence to move unexpectedly while Landry was walking through the gate. Under this theory, the defendants were not entitled to summary judgment. Thus, the court dismissed the appeal.

If you have been injured by another party’s negligence, you may face significant medical bills and time off work, and you may need the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to redress your injuries. At the Neumann Law Group, our personal injury attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state of Massachusetts. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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