Retroactive Application of Changes to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act

posted Jun 12, 2012, 10:49 AM by Andrew Kenney

Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the 2009 legislative amendments to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, at least to the extent that they apply to interest on a judgment, are not applied retroactively.  At issue in Smith v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was whether the MBTA should be allowed to seek protection as a “public employer” under the Act with regard to a plaintiff’s claims that accrued prior to November 1, 2009.  The Court disagreed.

The MBTA became a “public employer” under the Tort Claims Act when the amendments went into effect on November 1, 2009.  The Act enumerates the procedures for pursuing tort claims against “public employers” (e.g. the Commonwealth, its agencies, towns, etc.).

In Smith, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the MBTA in October 2005 for claims arising out of a motor vehicle accident involving one its buses.  On September 30, 2009, approximately one month before the amendments went into effect, judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff for over $660,000.00plus costs and interest, which in this case began accruing once he filed his lawsuit.  Under the Act, public employers are immune from awards of costs and interest.

In September 2010, the MBTA filed a motion arguing that because it was now considered a “public employer” under the Act, it should not have to pay costs or pre/post-judgment interest on the plaintiff’s judgment.  The SJC ultimately disagreed.  In so ruling, it stated that it is a “general rule…that a statute affecting the interest payable prior to judgment, or on a judgment, shall not apply retroactively, but shall instead apply prospectively from the effective date of that statute.”  In summary, the Court upheld its award of costs and pre-judgment interest, as well as its award of post-judgment interest through November 1, 2009, the date the change in the law went into effect.

While the SJC’s ruling was specific to how awards of costs and interest on a judgment are treated in light of the 2009 amendments to the Act, it is a step signifying that Courts may treat all aspects of changes in the Act retroactively.

If you believe you have a claim against a “public employer,” it is important that you speak with a qualified attorney as soon as possible.  The Tort Claims Act contains very specific procedures and deadlines for pursuing any such claims that must be strictly followed.

To speak with an attorney at LaFountain & Wollman, please call (617) 926-8944, or email us at[email protected].