In a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the Mattapan, Massachusetts woman who was attacked by “Fritz” the off-duty, Boston police dog, we now read that Governor Deval Patrick’s dog, Tobey, may have injured a woman who attended a Town Meeting this week. What’s interesting about these two incidents is the way the two victims would be compensated under existing Massachusetts law, had – hypothetically – both dogs inflicted the very same injuries.
In the case of the female Mattapan victim, regardless of the extent of her injuries, the very most she would likely recover against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (as the owner of the dog) is $100,000.00. This would be the maximum recovery, even if the injuries included massive facial disfigurement or death. Massachusetts lawmakers simply do not believe that any injury caused by the negligence of its employees (or its dogs) is deserving of any more than one hundred grand.
Now consider the victim of Governor Patrick’s dog, Tobey. While it appears that the injuries inflicted by Tobey were only minor, since Tobey is owned by Governor Patrick, and not by the Commonwealth, the Governor does not enjoy the same protections as those provided to the Commonwealth. Simply put – if both Fritz and Tobey each bit a person’s nose off, Tobey’s victim might receive hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in compensation, while Fritz’s victim would never receive a dime over one hundred thousand dollars.
The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (G.L. c. 258 section 2) creates two classes of tortfeasor for the purpose of compensating victims: The citizen tortfeasor (which includes individuals and corporations) and the governmental torfeasor. The problem with such a system is obvious: governmental tortfeasors have no real economic incentive to avoid acts of negligence; as the worst case scenarios involve a penalty that the State can easily afford to pay. If a Boston police officer runs a red light while operating his cruiser and kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk – the maximum recovery to which the family of the victim is legally entitled is just one hundred grand – that’s before attorney’s fees, case expenses, and unpaid medical costs. Not a penny more.
I hate when people say it, but I have to agree – laws only change when lawmakers suffer the tragedies and inequities that their constituents face every day. Only then will the relic that is Chapter 258 be brought in line with 21st century medical costs, wage losses, and other economic damages that victims of governmental negligence presently face as victims.
Eric J. Parker