A lawsuit alleging the town of Oak Bluffs ignored its own moped regulations in a 2016 moped accident resulting in Noelle Lambert losing one of her legs was dismissed in Dukes County Superior Court Wednesday.
On July 30, 2016, Lambert, then a 19-year-old student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, rented a moped with her friend from Ride-On Mopeds in Oak Bluffs. While traveling on Barnes Road, Lambert lost control of the moped when it drifted toward the road shoulder, and swerved into the middle of the road. The moped collided with the side of an oncoming truck, throwing Lambert to the ground and severing her leg, which had to be amputated. Lambert was treated by Oak Bluffs emergency personnel before being transported by Med-Flight to Boston Medical Center.
“The town ignored its own bylaws and prospectively issued license renewals to businesses that ignored certain bylaws requiring that, among other things, moped businesses have a proper training track in order to adequately train citizens who rent mopeds in Oak Bluffs,” the lawsuit states.
Lambert and her parents, Judy and Geoffrey Lambert, sought damages against the town for medical bills, emotional distress to the parents, and the injuries Lambert received.
“[Oak Bluffs] acted in a reckless and wanton manner with indifference to its legal duty when they repeatedly, knowingly issued licenses to businesses that failed to abide by the bylaws intended to protect citizens from injuries resulting from inadequate training in the use of mopeds,” the lawsuit states. “As a direct result of [Oak Bluffs]’s reckless and wanton negligence, Plaintiff Noelle Lambert has suffered severe consequential damages.”
Oak Bluffs said it was entitled to immunity under Massachusetts General Laws that protect the town.
“The town states that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Consequently, the complaint should be dismissed,” the motion states. “[Lambert’s] allegations establish that they cannot satisfy the ‘proximity requirement’ of a bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.”
Superior Court Judge Robert Rufo sided with the town.
In his decision, Rufo wrote that Lambert does not allege an Oak Bluffs employee drove the vehicle which caused her injury, provided her with a moped, or directed her use of the moped while on the road.
Towns have immunity for claims based upon the issuance of licenses, permits, or other authorization. They also have immunity for any claims based on a failure to prevent harmful consequences of a condition or situation which is not originally caused by the town or a town employee.
“The complaint solely alleges that the town failed to prevent the harmful consequences of untrained rental moped operators, a situation created by either the operators themselves, or the rental companies, which the town did not take any affirmative act to ‘originally cause,’” Rufo wrote.
“The court applied the law that was enacted by the legislature, which essentially insulates the town from the failure to enforce their own bylaws,” Lambert’s attorney Daniel Murphy said, speaking to The Times by phone Thursday.
In November 2017, Lambert returned to the Island to thank Oak Bluffs firefighters and paramedics for saving her life. She also thanked Jim Burke, a bystander who witnessed the accident and wrapped her leg in his shirt until first responders arrived.
The dismissal comes as efforts to ban moped rentals on the Island continue.
A home-rule petition, passed in a unanimous vote at Oak Bluffs 2018 annual town meeting, is in committee after failing to move through the Massachusetts legislature last year. The bill aims to “prohibit the commercial lease or rental of mopeds and motor scooters to the public.”
The bill is currently in the committee on Municipalities and Regional Government.