November 3, 2015
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on April
case was tried before Janet L. Sanders, J., and a
motion for a new trial or for remittitur was heard by her.
F. Maffei ( Margaret C. Kelty with him) for the defendant.
A. Lukey for the plaintiff.
Kafker, C.J., Vuono, & Hanlon, JJ.
N.E.3d 572] Kafker, C.J.
Williamson was perched more than one hundred feet high on a
boom lift, [46 N.E.3d 573] inspecting the roof of a
university building in Boston, when the machine tipped over
crashed into a neighboring building, killing him. The boom
lift had been manufactured by Grove U.S., LLC (Grove), and
rented from the defendant Equipment 4 Rent, Inc. (E4R).
Williamson's wife, Michelle Williamson-Green, as
administratrix of Williamson's estate, successfully sued
Grove and E4R for damages associated with her husband's
wrongful death. The jury found that negligence of Grove and
of E4R each was " a direct and substantial factor in
causing the death of Mr. Williamson." The jury also
found that " E4R's conduct [was] grossly negligent,
wilful, wanton, or reckless." The jury awarded
$3,692,657.40 in compensatory damages against E4R and Grove,
together with $5,900,000 in punitive damages solely against
E4R. The trial judge denied E4R's motions for a directed
verdict and judgment notwithstanding the
verdict, judgment entered, and E4R appeals,
claiming only that there was insufficient evidence to support
the jury's award of punitive damages. We affirm.
considering an appeal from " [t]he denial of a motion
for directed verdict or a motion for judgment notwithstanding
the verdict[, we must review the record] under the same
standard used by the trial judge[,] ... constru[ing] the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party
and disregard[ing] that favorable to the moving party."
O'Brien v. Pearson, 449 Mass. 377, 383,
868 N.E.2d 118 (2007). See Christopher v.
Father's Huddle Café, Inc., 57
Mass.App.Ct. 217, 219, 782 N.E.2d 517 (2003). " Our duty
in this regard is to evaluate whether 'anywhere in the
evidence, from whatever source derived, any combination of
circumstances could be found from which a reasonable
inference could be made in favor of the
[nonmovant].'" O'Brien, supra, quoting
from Turnpike Motors, Inc. v. Newbury Group,
Inc., 413 Mass. 119, 121, 596 N.E.2d 989 (1992). See
Christopher, supra, citing
Michnik-Zilberman v. Gordon's Liquor,
Inc., 390 Mass. 6, 7 n.1, 453 N.E.2d 430 (1983). In
light of this standard, we recite the general facts below as
the jury could have found them, reserving some of the more
specific facts for our detailed discussion of the different
acts and omissions constituting evidence of E4R's gross
General overview of the boom lift.
boom lift in the instant case is a Model A125J articulating
boom lift manufactured by Grove and owned by E4R, a
construction equipment rental company. That model of boom
lift is depicted in the Appendix to this
opinion. This " [a]erial work platform ...
incorporate[s] multiple arm[ segments] that have articulating
joints between them." The first arm segment, called
" the riser," was a key focus of this litigation.
Using hydraulics that tilt the riser, the angle of the riser
can be elevated and lowered. Because the riser is made up of
several nested metal sections, the riser can also be extended
(i.e., telescoped out) and retracted.
lift " manufacturers refer to the range of allowable
working positions as the working envelope of the unit."
This lift's [46 N.E.3d 574] riser has a " working
envelope" of seventy-two to seventy-four degrees above
the horizontal. Because this boom lift is very tall,
extending as high as 125 feet, " the lift can become
unstable and tip over" if two things coincide: (1) the
riser is in an extended position, and (2) the riser's
angle (from the horizontal) is fifty-five degrees or less
(about seventeen degrees below the working envelope). A set
of key boom lift safety features called the " riser
interlock system" normally prohibits the lift operator
from unsafely positioning the riser in this
fashion. Two integral components of the riser
interlock system are (1) the " proximity sensors"
and (2) the " riser retracted limit switch."
Summary of the accident.
February 7, 2009, Gregory Johnson, an employee of roofing
contractor Reliable Roofing and Sheet Metal, LLC (Reliable
Roofing), was the operator of the boom lift,
which Reliable Roofing had rented from E4R. Williamson, who
worked for a different contractor involved in the roof repair
job on the university dormitory building, was a passenger on
the boom lift and was inspecting the roof. After about two
hours of operation, Johnson began lowering the boom
lift's riser out of the working envelope while the riser
was still extended -- an operation which should have been
prohibited by the riser interlock system. When the riser
angle reached about fifty-
five degrees, the lift tipped over, inflicting fatal injuries
on Williamson. As explained by one of Grove's experts:
" Based on my observations of the videos and the
inspections performed on the lift after the accident, ... the
subject lift's riser interlock system was out of
adjustment. One of the riser fully elevated proximity sensors
was out of adjustment to the point that it would not indicate
that the riser was fully elevated. Also, the mechanical limit
switch utilized to determine that the riser was fully
retracted [i.e., the riser retracted limit switch] was out of
adjustment to the point that it would not indicate if the
riser was extended."
Summary of E4R's relevant acts and omissions.
jury could have found that the uncorrected adjustment issues
caused the accident and resulted from the following
interrelated problems with training, maintenance, and
inspection by E4R: (1) E4R failed to properly train the
person responsible for maintaining and inspecting the boom
lift, including the riser interlock system; (2) E4R
improperly installed a proximity sensor in the lift causing
it to be out of adjustment; (3) E4R failed to discover the
improper installation for nine months, even after many
inspections; (4) E4R did not properly test the riser
retracted limit switch; and (5) despite the dangers
associated with operating the lift with a malfunctioning
riser interlock system, E4R attached a tag to the lift that
stated both " ready to rent" and " ready to
use," and E4R's delivery [46 N.E.3d 575] driver told
Johnson that the boom lift " was all set to go."
Standards for determining gross negligence.
jury awarded punitive damages against E4R pursuant to G. L.
c. 229, § 2, after finding that " E4R's
conduct [was] grossly negligent, wilful, wanton, or
reckless." E4R does not contest its
ordinary negligence, but claims on appeal that there was
insufficient evidence to support the jury's award of
punitive damages. Because the plaintiff primarily relied on a
theory of gross negligence in her closing argument at trial,
we proceed to consider the sufficiency of ...