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Trinity Church v. John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Massachusetts
502 N.E.2d 532 (1987)


Facts

Trinity Church (Trinity) (plaintiff) was located in Boston. Trinity was designed in 1872 and has been designated as a national historic landmark. Trinity is also a functioning church. Trinity was built almost entirely out of stone masonry, which is heavy and brittle compared to other construction materials. Stone masonry does not deform when placed under stress; it cracks. Usually, when the stone masonry cracks, the strength of the material is reduced dramatically because the stone masonry breaks throughout its entire thickness. The normal method of repair for stone masonry is disassembly, resetting, and reconstruction. John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. (John Hancock) (defendant) constructed a new building near Trinity. During the construction, John Hancock caused the foundation of Trinity to shift due to excavation work. The shift of the foundation caused Trinity to settle unevenly and resulted in a spray of cracks up through Trinity’s masonry walls. Trinity sued John Hancock and was awarded approximately $4.2 million by a jury verdict. John Hancock appealed to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. 

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Lynch, J.)

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Dissent (O’Connor, J.)

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