Damage award challenged in Boston wrongful death case

After a college student in Boston slipped and fell at a popular restaurant and pub near his school’s campus, the man was taken to the hospital with a severe head injury and died two days later. While a jury found the establishment not liable for the young man’s wrongful death, a judge later ordered the business to pay $6.7 million, plus attorneys’ costs and other fees, to the family of the man.

The judge contended that the pub failed to uphold the Massachusetts consumer protection law because it ignored building code violations and didn’t have a permit for the stairs. But the bar’s owners contend that the judge was wrong to award damages based on the same evidence used by a jury to absolve the business of liability.

The state’s highest court plans to hear the bar owners’ appeal of the judge’s decision early next year.

Lawyers for the family, though, insist that the judge’s decision was weighed and reasonable after hearing the whole case, which included testimony from employees that the stairs presented a safety hazard.

The bar’s owners said that the man’s heavy alcohol consumption likely contributed to the fall down the stairs, which were intended to be off-limits to customers. But witnesses noted a number of conditions of the stairs that weren’t up to code and created hazards for workers and the stray customer, such as the man who fell down the stairs and died.

The state’s highest court will have to decide whether the consumer protection laws apply or not, given that the accident occurred in a private part of the business.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Mass. bar challenges $6.7M award in student’s fall,” Denise Lavoe, Dec. 25, 2012