The Boston City Hall property has a plaza where the walkway is made of bricks that have been poorly maintained. A woman was injured after a fall and filed a complaint with the city; however, the city rejected it based on their state-granted immunity from actions for personal injury. Another woman fell several months later and suffered a concussion and injuries to her knee and jaw, yet again the city claimed municipal immunity. NBC News Boston states that Massachusetts has the most stringent restrictions for individuals to bring personal injury actions based on hazardous conditions of public property among the states in the eastern U.S.
The following is a summary of other state immunity statutes in the region:
- Maryland: Local Government Tort Claims Act. The local government is generally not immune to tort claims, except for statutory exceptions. Written notice of a claim must occur within one-year. In most cases, a government employee may be sued directly, not the governmental unit itself. If employee actions are while working for the locality, the government usually will pay the claim. The damage limitations are $400,000 per person or $800,000 per occurrence.
- Pennsylvania: Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Local government immunity is usually not waived; however, statutory exceptions exist. A Notice of Claim Intent must be made in six months. Local agencies are generally liable for conditions such as trees, traffic signals, utility related hazards, streets, and sidewalks. A damage limit of $500,000 per occurrence is in place.
- New Hampshire: Bodily Injury Actions Against Governmental Units. The government is subject to injury liability just as a private entity would be. Suit must be brought within a period of three years.
A personal injury lawyer in Boston says that the public owned properties are shielded while private property owners or occupiers are held to high premises liability and safety standards. David Doddridge, a construction specialist, explained that the region has harsh winter weather with water freezing and thawing, which makes many walking surfaces potentially uneven and dangerous. If the state terminates public immunity, citizens would be able to bring suits to seek damages when they are injured on city property. When asked, the city stated that they do not discuss “legal strategy”.
Some recent complaints filed included photographs detailing the poor surface conditions. According to The Boston Globe, the city has over 1,300 parcels of land. The city says they have an annual masonry contract with $112,000 budget allocation for evaluating conditions and making repairs. With such a volume of properties, it is difficult to say if the fund allocation is truly sufficient.
The city is active in developing the City Hall Plaza area as part of their Rethink City Hall Program; they are reducing the amount of traditional brick in favor of a similar product with lower maintenance concerns.
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