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Court Discusses Open and Obvious Exception to Massachusetts Property Owners’ Duty to Warn

In Massachusetts, property owners generally have a duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition for any lawful visitors. There are exceptions to the general rule, however, such as when the harm presented by a dangerous condition is open and obvious. Recently, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts discussed the open and obvious exception to a property owners’ duty to warn of hazardous conditions, in a case in which a child was injured while using a zip line. If you or your child were injured on someone else’s property, it is wise to meet with a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss what you must prove to establish liability.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the older brother of the minor plaintiff spent the night at the home of the defendants. The next day, the minor plaintiff, who was six years old, accompanied his father to the home of the defendants to pick up his brother. When they arrived at the defendants’ home, the minor plaintiff noted a zip line in the backyard.

Reportedly, the minor plaintiff asked his father if he could use the zip line. The father lifted the minor plaintiff onto the zip line and guided him for a few feet and then let him go. The minor plaintiff fell shortly after that, sustaining multiple fractures. The minor plaintiff’s mother instituted a negligence claim against the defendants on behalf of the minor plaintiff, arguing that the zip line was unreasonably dangerous. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, the court affirmed.

Open and Obvious Exception to the Duty to Maintain a Safe Premises

In Massachusetts, property owners owe a duty of reasonable care to anyone legally on their property, which includes the duty to warn of any unreasonable dangers of which the property owner is aware. A property owner does not have a duty, however, to warn of dangers that would be obvious to a person of average intelligence. Rather, a finding that a danger is open and obvious alleviates a property owner of the duty to warn.

Further, when the danger involves a risk to a child under supervision, there is not a separate duty to warn the child. Rather, the analysis in such cases is whether the risk posed to the child would be obvious to the adult supervising the child. As such, in the subject case, the appropriate analysis was not whether the dangers associated with using the zip line were obvious to the minor plaintiff, but whether they were obvious to his father, contrary to the plaintiff’s assertions. Thus, the court found that the trial court did not err in finding that the risks presented by the zip line would be obvious to an average adult of reasonable intelligence and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Skillful Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one were injured due to a hazardous condition on someone else’s property, you may be able to recover compensation and should meet with a skillful Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your injury and your potential claims. The experienced personal injury attorneys of Karsner & Meehan will diligently pursue any damages you may be able to recover. We can be contacted at 508-822-6600 or through the form online to set up a consultation.