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SJC Ruling on Independent 93A Claim

The Massachusetts SJC made an interesting ruling recently with regards to 93A claims against insurers.

In the case at hand, a patron had died after falling down the stairs at a Boston bar. A wrongful death action was brought by the parents of the patron against the owners of the establishment, as well as a 93A claim against them for building code violations.

The defendant bar owners had argued successfully to the jury that their negligence and failure to comply with the building code were not substantial contributing causes of the death of the patron. The jury sided with the bar owners and found no liability on their part.

However, Superior Court Judge Elizabeth M. Fahey awarded the patron's parents nearly $7 million in 93A damages.

The SJC did find that the Judge erred in awarding so much in damages and reduced the amount. But, more importantly, they ruled that in "limited circumstances", liability may arise under Chapter 93A based on a building code violation. The SJC was unanimous in finding that "[a] judge may make independent and, therefore, different, findings on the c. 93A aspects of a case that arises from the same facts which gave rise to parallel common law claim."

93A claims do not have jury trials, giving judges the ability to make these independent rulings, which can work in the favor of the plaintiff, since juries are less likely to give money to plaintiffs.

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