SJC: RICHARD MEYER v. VEOLIA ENERGY NORTH AMERICA

KeywordsWay, Public: defect. Municipal Corporations, Notice to municipality. Notice, Action alleging injury caused by defect in public way. Statute, Construction

In this decision, the SJC ruled that the notice requirements of the “defect in the public way” statute are not applicable to private parties.  The Court summarized as follow:

While riding his bicycle on Sudbury Street in Boston, the plaintiff, Richard Meyer, struck a utility cover that was misaligned with the road surface and injured himself.  Within thirty days of the incident he submitted notice of claim to the city of Boston (city) regarding his injury.  Thirty-one days after the incident, the city informed him that it would not pay Meyer’s claim because the defendant, Veolia Energy North America (Veolia), was responsible for the defect that caused Meyer’s injuries.  A few days later, Meyer gave notice to Veolia and subsequently brought suit against Veolia for negligence.  A judge of the Superior Court granted summary judgment to Veolia and dismissed Meyer’s lawsuit.  He concluded that G. L. c. 84, § 15 (§ 15 or road defect statute), provided the exclusive remedy for Meyer’s claim against Veolia.  He further concluded that Veolia was entitled to notice within thirty days from the date of Meyer’s injury under G. L. c. 84, § 18 (§ 18 or notice statute), but that Meyer had not provided that notice.

We conclude that the decision below was erroneous.  The text of §§ 15 and 18, the legal and legislative history relevant to those statutes, the case law, and the practical realities of providing notice within thirty days all confirm that the road defect and notice statutes apply to governmental and quasi governmental actors responsible for the public duty of maintaining the public way, and not to a private party such as Veolia that has created a particular defect in the way.  Sections 15 and 18 do not limit Veolia’s common-law liability under tort law.  Consequently, Veolia may be sued for its own negligence without providing thirty days’ notice.  Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment for Veolia.

Click here for the full text of the SJC’s decision.

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