Massachusetts Accident Cases and The Significance of Building Code Violations

Most personal injury cases focus on the elements of negligence and damages.  In order to prove negligence, a plaintiff must identify a duty that was owed and a breach of that duty by the defendant that caused harm.  Generally, a duty to exercise reasonable care exists as to third persons in most situations.  However, in limited circumstances, Massachusetts law recognized strict liability for damages caused as a result of certain activity regardless of the care exercised or safety measures taken.  For example, an owner or keeper of a dog is strictly liable for any damage or injuries caused by the dog.  In the area of products liability, the law imposes strict liability for defective products such that a person simply needs to establish that a product was defective and that the defect was a substantial factor in producing the injury.


Building Code Violations As Some Evidence of Negligence

In December, 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), the highest appellate court in Massachusetts, heard oral arguments in the case of Sheehan v. Weaver, 467 Mass. 734 (2014), that posed the question whether the law imposes strict liability for injuries resulting from building code violations on the owner or party in control of a building.  Prior to this case, the law deemed building code violations to constitute merely some evidence of negligence unless the code violation involved a means of egress and the injured person was fleeing a fire in which case strict liability applied.  Although the requirement of fleeing a fire was abandoned in more recent versions of the applicable statute, the courts continued to construe the circumstance as a condition to strict liability.  In either case, a plaintiff would still need to prove that the code violation caused the injury.

Law Imposes Strict Liability for Building Code Violations In the Sheehan

In the Sheehan case, the SJC held that:

  • the law (M.G.L. c. 143, s. 51)  imposes strict liability on persons in control of a building for personal injury damages caused by a building code violation;
  • that it applies to all violations of the state building code;
  • it defined a building as places of public or commercial use, places of assembly or places of work;  and
    the term “building” does not include a single family home, an owner occupied two  family home or a small scale residential structure from which an owner derives income.

Strict Liability

Negligence is often a hotly contested issue that can be largely impacted by conflicting testimony and a battle of the experts and often leads to lawsuits.

The significance of strict liability is that if you can prove that the person in control of the building violated a building code and the violation caused your damages, you do not have to prove that they were negligent.


Free Consultation

If you or a loved one were injured because of someone’s negligence, contact Attorney Allison now for a free consultation by calling 978-740-9433 or filling out our free consultation form. We look forward to talking to you about your claim.

Category:  Personal Injury

Tags: , ,