Snaras v. Richard Lundgren, a recent summary decision from the Massachusetts Court of Appeals involves a wrongful death claim that was dismissed after a motion for summary judgment was allowed in favor of the defendant.
In this case, defendant gave a loaner vehicle to a person who was having his car serviced. When he got the loaner vehicle, he signed an agreement that said he was not an agent of the defendant, and was not an employee or servant of the defendant in anyway. He also agreed that while driving the service loaner vehicle he would not carry more than five passengers and would comply with all local, state, and federal laws. He agreed that he shall be responsible for any violations, and not the defendant. This particular agreement was signed by the defendant, but it was not ever signed by this third party who borrowed the loaner vehicle.
While this person was driving the car, plaintiff was riding as a passenger and there was a serious accident in which all occupants of the car were killed. The administrator of plaintiff’s estate filed a claim against the bar that served driver, and the dealership that let him the car.
As our Boston personal injury attorneys can explain, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a plaintiff can file a can file a claim against a bar on grounds that the bar knowingly served someone to the point of intoxication when they knew or had reason to know that person would be getting behind the wheel of a car. This is known as a dram shop case. A dram is an old term for a shot of liquor.
A default judgment was entered against the bar for not appearing to defend the lawsuit and the defendant’s estate. The bar had also filed for bankruptcy protection. At this point, plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment against the car dealership that provided the loaner vehicle. Car dealership moved for a cross summary judgment, and that cross motion was granted.
That basis for basis for plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is that based upon Massachusetts Statute G.L. c. 231 Section 85A, which states proof that the defendant owns a vehicle is prima facie evidence that the defendant is responsible for the actions of the person actually driving at the time of an accident. This was does not change the laws pertaining negligence in Boston personal injury lawsuits, but it does shift the burden to the defendant of proving they are not in control of the driver at the time of the accident.
The reason the trial judge denied this motion for summary judgment and granted the car dealership’s motion was because of the loaner vehicle agreement that expressed that dealership had no control over driver. However, on appeal, the court concluded that since driver had never signed the loaner agreement, there is no evidence based upon the document that the release was effective and the court reversed the grant of summary judgment.
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Snaras v. Richard Lundgren, Inc., April 4, 2016, Massachusetts Court of Appeals
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