The plaintiff, Geraldine McAllister, appeals from a decision allowing the defendant Boston Housing Authority's motion for directed verdicts on claims relating to injuries sustained on the defendant's property and from a jury determination that the defendant was not negligent. We allowed the plaintiff's application for direct appellate review. We affirm.
The plaintiff was a resident of property owned by the defendant. She slipped and fell on ice that had accumulated on exterior stairs on the defendant's property. The plaintiff sued the defendant alleging (1) negligence; (2) breach of the implied warranty of habitability; (3) breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment; and (4) violation of the lease. After the plaintiff presented her case, the defendant successfully moved for a directed verdict on all but the negligence claim. A jury then found for the defendant on the negligence claim.
1. Negligence. At trial, the defendant acknowledged that it had a duty to remove snow and ice. The central issue was whether the defendant was negligent in performing that duty. That issue was sent to the jury and the jury determined that the defendant was not negligent.
"[T]he better procedure in a case in which it is a close question whether the standard for granting a directed verdict is met is to allow the matter to go to the jury. If the judge then decides that the jury's verdict cannot stand, a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict may be allowed." Smith v. Ariens Co., 375 Mass. 620, 627 (1978), citing Soares v. Lakeville Baseball Camp, Inc., 369 Mass. 974, 975 (1976).
We reject the plaintiff's contention that she is entitled to a new trial based on her claims that the defendant violated the lease
2. The trial. (a) Verbal completeness. On cross-examination, the plaintiff testified that she did not call the work order center to complain about a recurrent problem of ice on the front stairs. Rather, she spoke to a person in the management office because the work order system was ineffective. Defense counsel then read a portion of her deposition testimony where she stated that she had always received a proper response from the work order center.
On redirect examination, the plaintiff's counsel sought to rehabilitate the plaintiff by introducing other portions of the deposition testimony under the doctrine of verbal completeness. Over the defendant's objection, the plaintiff's counsel was allowed to read the next several lines of the deposition testimony. This testimony described the plaintiff's problems with the work order system. The plaintiff's counsel then sought to introduce additional portions of the plaintiff's deposition testimony, under the doctrine of verbal completeness.
Under the doctrine of verbal completeness, when one party introduces a written or verbal statement, "the other party may add what has been omitted to give a full picture." Kobayashi v. Orion Ventures, Inc., 42 Mass.App.Ct. 492, 498 (1997). The judge's decision to exclude the additional deposition testimony was within her discretion. The plaintiff's counsel read the next several lines of the deposition following those offered by the defendant. This testimony, establishing that the plaintiff had problems with the work order system, was sufficient to complete the "full picture" as raised by cross-examination. See id. The portion excluded by the judge appeared a number of pages later in the deposition transcript, and the record does not reflect that the additional proffered testimony explained further the picture painted by defense counsel. See id. at 497 ("[Verbal completeness doctrine] does not open the gate for everything in a document or statement. There is always the test of relevance").
We agree with the judge's conclusion that the better practice is to require an objection and contemporaneous introduction of the complete statements when the original statement is offered. That procedure prevents the jury from receiving the statement in a fragmentary manner and also allows the jury to consider the offered statement as a whole, which in turn furthers the "full picture" rationale of the doctrine. See id.
(b) Introduction of the State codes in evidence. The plaintiff argues that the judge erred by prohibiting her counsel from referring, in his opening statement, to provisions in the State sanitary and building codes, requiring the defendant to keep the stairs free of snow and ice, and from introducing the code provisions in evidence "early in the case."
We agree with the plaintiff that the codes were admissible. See id. However, the failure to introduce the relevant portions of the codes in evidence does not require a new trial. Although the code provisions established a duty on the part of the defendant to remove snow and ice, the defendant never challenged that it owed the plaintiff that duty. The only issue was whether the defendant violated its duty and that was determined by the jury. Further, the relevant portions of the codes were read to the jurors, and they were instructed properly that a violation of the codes was to be considered as evidence of negligence. Thus, even though the codes were not introduced in evidence, the jurors were aware of them and their significance. A new trial is not warranted based on the failure to introduce the codes in evidence.
(c) Jury instructions. The plaintiff complains that the judge erred in instructing the jurors on the weight the jurors should accord the State sanitary and building codes.
The judge instructed that a violation of a code provision was to be considered as evidence of negligence, but that "[i]t should not be taken as conclusive of a breach of the duty of care." According to the plaintiff, this instruction required the jurors to find some additional evidence of negligence before they could determine that the defendant was liable to the plaintiff.
The judge defined negligence as "the performance or the omission of some act in violation of a legal duty." She instructed that, because the defendant had a duty, the plaintiff was required to show that "the Defendant failed to exercise the ... amount
3. Implied warranty of habitability. The plaintiff argues that the judge erroneously granted the defendant's motion for a directed verdict as to the plaintiff's claim of breach of the implied warranty of habitability.
The implied warranty of habitability "is concerned with the provision, maintenance, and repair of the physical facilities vital to the use of the leased premises" (emphasis in original). Doe v. New Bedford Hous. Auth., 417 Mass. 273, 282 (1994). Not every breach of the State sanitary code supports a claim under the implied warranty of habitability. Rather, the implied warranty of habitability applies to significant defects in the property itself. Berman & Sons v. Jefferson, 379 Mass. 196, 201-202 (1979) ("A dwelling afflicted with a substantial Sanitary Code violation is not habitable"). See, e.g., Cruz Mgt. Co. v. Thomas, 417 Mass. 782, 787 (1994) (apartment lacked adequate heat, hot water, and fire escape; was infested with cockroaches, mice, and rats; had unsanitary common areas; and had defective smoke detector, windows, and wiring); Simon v. Solomon, 385 Mass. 91, 93, 96 (1982) (water and sewage repeatedly flooded apartment); Crowell v. McCaffrey, 377 Mass. 443, 451 (1979) (defective
The prior inconsistent statement used to impeach the plaintiff related to the plaintiff's experience with the work order system, not the accumulation of snow and ice. Contrary to the plaintiff's contention, the judge was within her discretion to limit the use of the deposition to issues raised on cross-examination.