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Sandler v. Commonwealth

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
644 N.E.2d 641 (1995)


Facts

Sandler (plaintiff) sustained injuries from a fall off of his bicycle, as he rode along a bikeway one evening and was attempting to pass through a tunnel under a bridge. The bikeway was controlled by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (defendant) through the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC). Sandler’s fall was caused by an uncovered drain in the tunnel. The drain was supposed to be covered and the tunnel well lit, but vandals had smashed out the tunnel’s lights and removed the drain’s cover. Consequently, Sandler could not see the defective drain. Sandler sued the Commonwealth. By statute, Sandler was not permitted to allege a claim of negligence against the MDC, but rather was required to prove recklessness in order to recover. At trial, one MDC employee testified that he could not recall the last time the tunnel lights had worked properly. The employee further testified that the drain covers were not routinely replaced. At the close of the evidence, the trial judge instructed the jury that the MDC could be found liable only if it acted willfully, wantonly, or recklessly. The jury held for Sandler. The Commonwealth filed motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The trial judge denied both motions. The Commonwealth appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Wilkins, J.)

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