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$816,000 Cut to $100,000 for Prisoner Injured by Circular Saw

by Christopher Zoukis

A Massachusetts state prisoner who worked in a prison industry workshop was awarded $816,000 in compensation for an injury sustained while working with a circular saw. The August 2, 2013 award would have been chopped down by 35 percent due to comparative negligence, but it was ultimately capped at $100,000 pursuant to Massachusetts law.

James Boswell, 40, was working with the saw when he injured his non-dominant hand. He received immediate medical attention--rare in many prisons--because the saw had cut off three of his fingers. He underwent surgery to repair the injuries to his hand, which included severely lacerated tendons. He sustained permanent damage to his hand as a result of the incident.

Boswell hired Waltham, Massachusetts, attorney Richard LeClair, and filed suit against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety. He alleged that he was not properly trained on the use of the powerful saw, and that the saw lacked important safety features. The defendant argued that Boswell was trained on the saw, that it did have safety features, and that Boswell was simply careless when he cut his own fingers off. To support this contention, the defendant pointed to a previous hand laceration, suffered by Boswell on a pre-incarceration job site, supposedly a result of his carelessness.

After a three day trial, the jury found the Commonwealth 65 percent negligent, and Boswell 35 percent negligent. The 12-member panel awarded $816,000 in damages, which was later reduced to $100,000 pursuant to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. 

See: Boswell v. Commonwealth, Suffolk County Superior Court, Case No. SUCV2010-01288 (August 2, 2013).

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Related legal case

Boswell v. Commonwealth