Plaintiff, Marcel Williams, is a twelve-year old boy who was severely injured in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts during a Fourth of July celebration when his best friend, Chris Martin, lit a firecracker near him. Martin did not handle the firecracker properly and it exploded in Marcel's face, burning Marcel and injuring his eyes, leaving him with limited visual acuity. The firecracker was sold by defendant, Bob Seger Fireworks Shop (“Seger”), a licensed fireworks dealer in Nashua, New Hampshire, to Chris's father, Steve Martin.
Nashua, New Hampshire is about ten miles from Tyngsboro, Massachusetts which is located a few miles from the New Hampshire border. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is one of about a dozen states in the country that completely prohibit the use of any fireworks by nonprofessionals, including firecrackers and cherry bombs. Sales of firecrackers are also prohibited in Massachusetts. Massachusetts adopted these stringent laws because of the injuries that fireworks can cause. New Hampshire, like most states, allows firecracker sales while regulating businesses that sell them. Although it is illegal to bring fireworks into Massachusetts, a number of Seger's customers do exactly that, resulting in several dozen injuries every year inside Massachusetts. Seger advertises in the Nashua Telegraph, a local newspaper sold both in Nashua and in Tyngsboro.
Marcel's mother Lucinda Williams brought a negligence suit on Marcel's behalf against both Seger and Steve Martin in state trial court in Massachusetts. Since the case was filed, Williams has settled with Martin. The only remaining defendant is Seger.
The trial judge held that defendant Seger could be strictly liable under Massachusetts law if it sold fireworks – a dangerous and prohibited item in the state – to a Massachusetts resident who intended to bring them illegally into Massachusetts. In contrast, New Hampshire immunizes fireworks dealers from liability for injuries caused by their products if injury results from misuse as it did in this case.
The trial judge further found that the Massachusetts courts had personal jurisdiction over the defendant because, although the defendant did not advertise in Massachusetts newspapers and conducted no business there, it knew that the the Nashua Telegraph – in which it did advertise – was sold in Tyngsboro, that a number of its customers lives in Massachusetts and that some of them bring fireworks back to Massachusetts in violation of Massachusetts law. The trial court also held that Massachusetts law should apply as the place of the injury.
On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court reversed on the grounds that Massachusetts courts had no personal jurisdiction over defendant Seger and that even if Massachusetts courts have jurisdiction, the applicable law was that of New Hampshire.
Plaintiff then appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
1. May the Massachusetts courts assert personal jurisdiction over defendant Seger?
2. Does Massachusetts or New Hampshire law apply to plaintiff’s tort claims against defendant Seger?
∆/Bob Seger Fireworks Shop