In a recent decision, Amaral vs. Seekonk Grand Prix Corp. (13-P-1848), the Commonwealth’s Appeals Court reviewed whether or not General Law, Ch. 21, Section 17C(a) barred a claim of negligence by a mother who was injured by a runaway go-cart while watching her sons. This law is known as the “public use statute,” which states that those who make land available to the public for recreational purposes without charging a fee shall not be liable for personal injuries sustained by members of the public, unless there is willful, wanton, or reckless conduct by the landowner.
Under general premises liability law, a shop or other place of business is expected to keep their premises reasonably safe for patrons. If a hazardous condition exists that the owner or manager knew or should have known about, the business may be held liable for injuries sustained by a patron. The Massachusetts public use statute limits the owner’s duty to members of the public, and it increases the burden of proof that must be shown by the injured person to recover damages.
The corporation that operated the recreational facility did not charge admission to the grounds, but it did sell tickets to rides on the property. The injured woman had purchased tickets for her sons to ride go-carts, and she was watching them drive the go-carts on the other side of a chain link fence. A go-cart driven by a little girl went through the fence at the end of a run and struck the woman, which resulted in several injuries, including a pulmonary embolism from a blood clot in her left leg.
The injured woman filed suit, but the recreational company moved for summary judgment to dismiss her claim. The judge granted the defendant’s motion, citing the public use statute because the company did not charge a fee for the use of the land, and the injured woman was a spectator. In its analysis, the appellate court noted that the Commonwealth statute does not define the term “recreation,” and case law has not fully addressed what falls under the umbrella of that term. The court looked to a Supreme Judicial Court discussion in a previous case that construed the term “recreation” to include passive pursuits like watching basketball.
While the SJC decision did not provide a specific definition in its ruling, the appellate court reasoned that a parent accompanying and paying for minors to participate in recreational activities qualifies as a paying customer under the statute. The court specifically felt that this situation should have been readily anticipated by the owners of the company. The court determined that summary judgment was not appropriate in this case, reversed the ruling of the trial court, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Amaral shows that it can be tricky showing whether a business is liable for an injury. The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to pursue and fully litigate a premises liability claim. For a free, confidential consultation today, call our office at 508.822.6600.
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Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling Allows Injured Couple to Keep Millions in Awarded Damages, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, September 28, 2015
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Multi-million Dollar Verdict in Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Suit, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, September 15, 2015