The plaintiff was playing with his children at the Pompositticut Elementary School playground in Stow when he struck his head on an exposed angle-iron used to brace a firemen’s pole.
The blow to his head caused him to fall on a hard wooden surface, and as a result, the father of three suffered a severe spinal cord injury that caused permanent quadriparesis, which is the paralysis of all four limbs.
The plaintiff sued six individual volunteers who had promoted, designed, and supervised the construction of the playground structure between the years of 1984 and 1986. The plaintiff’s wife and children asserted claims for loss of consortium.
Rather than building a playground set using a prefabricated kit from a reputable manufacturer, the volunteers used their own materials, the plaintiffs said, adding that the cost of constructing the Stow playground was around $3,800. Pre-made kits go for around $40,000, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
In addition to the lack of blueprint, the attorneys also noted there was no uniformity among the materials used in constructing the playground set.
The town was aware of the playground construction, but provided no supervision or subsequent audit of the structure to protect residents, the plaintiffs alleged.
Claims against the town were filed for negligence and wanton and reckless conduct in failing to supervise and/or inspect the design and construction of playgrounds for safety purposes.
The Massachusetts Torts Claims Act imposes a $100,000 cap per plaintiff on damages recoverable against a municipality for negligence.
The Recreational Use Statute bars claim in negligence against a landowner, including a municipality, which allows the public to use its land for free for recreational purposes.
By asserting claims against the individuals as volunteer independent contractors, the plaintiff was able to get around the $100,000 MTCA cap and the Recreational Use Statute immunity provision. The plaintiff was also able to bring the claims within the coverage of the individual homeowners’ insurance policies, as well the town’s liability policy, which provided coverage to volunteers.
The plaintiff successfully opposed motions for summary judgment based upon the alleged immunity of the town under the Recreational Use Statute and of the individuals volunteers under the MTCA.
A week before the trial, the parties agreed to submit the case to mediation. The parties were able to resolve the case during mediation. The plaintiffs were awarded a combined settlement from the defendants of $950,000.
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