Sandler v. Commonwealth

419 Mass. 334, 644 N.E.2d 641 (1995)



Reckless failure to act involves an intentional or unreasonable disregard of a risk that presents a high degree of probability that substantial harm will result to another. The risk of death or grave bodily injury must be known or reasonably apparent, and the harm must be a probable consequence of the defendant's election to run that risk or of his failure reasonably to recognize it. 


The claimant was injured when he fell off his bicycle while attempting to pass through a tunnel on government land. He filed a case against the Commonthwealth to recover for its injuries. The jury concluded that the claimant fell due to an uncovered drain in the unlit tunnel and entered judgment for the claimant.The court reasoned that the Commonwealth was aware of the risk of harm created by a chronically unlit tunnel, and that the cover of the particular drain that caused the accident was frequently stolen. The Commonwealth knew that the lack of a drain cover posed a danger to individuals. The evidence showed that the Commonwealth did not respond reasonably to the danger. The Commonwealth had no policy for bikeway inspection, no record of the existence or replacement of drain covers, the design of the lighting in the tunnel was deficient, and the Commonwealth did not have replacement covers on hand. The case was appealed. 


Was the Commonwealth reckless?




The court found that despite the reasoning of the lower court, the degree of the risk of injury did not meet the standard established for recklessness under the law. As a result, the court held that judgment notwithstanding the verdict should have been granted to the Commonwealth.

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