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Massachusetts Recreational Use Statute Protects Indoor Sports Facility from Dekhockey Spectator’s Premises Liability Lawsuit

When someone is hurt on another’s property, there may be a possibility of filing what is commonly called a “slip and fall” or “premises liability” lawsuit against the landowner or business operator whose negligence caused the accident.

Of course, the defendant in such a case is likely to offer up a myriad of possible defenses, blaming the plaintiff for the accident or denying that the condition that led to the injury had been in place long enough for the defendant to have legal notice of it.

In some situations, there may be another possible defense, such as the recreational use statute.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was a woman who reportedly fell from the bleachers at an indoor sports facility after watching her child play dekhockey (street hockey). She filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, the operator of the facility, seeking monetary compensation for her injuries, including a torn ligament in her knee. The plaintiff’s husband joined in the suit to assert a claim for loss of consortium.

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ case on the ground that it was immune from liability under the recreational use statute codified at Massachusetts General Laws ch. 21, § 17C. The superior court treated the motion as if it were a motion for summary judgment, ruling in the defendant’s favor and thereby dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint.

What the Court of Appeals Decided

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s decision. Noting that the statute in question was intended to encourage landowners to permit broad, public, and free use of their land for recreational purposes by limiting their obligations to lawful visitors under the common law, the court of appeals pointed out that, although the plaintiffs’ son may have incurred an indirect fee in order to use the defendant’s facilities, the plaintiff herself had entered the premises without charge. Although the plaintiffs attempted to distinguish their case by arguing that the female plaintiff was not at the facility for a recreational purpose, but, rather, to supervise her minor child, the court declined this argument. According to the court, when a parent who entered a recreational facility for free was injured while watching his or her child play in an organized activity in which the players were under the charge of a third-party coach and referee, the parent’s “mere invocation of the term ‘supervision'” was insufficient to stave off a defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Lest its holding be misinterpreted, the appellate court noted that it did not rely on the defendant’s “reductionist claim” that owners of recreational facilities of whatever stripe were automatically entitled to the protections of the recreational use statute if the injured spectator was not charged an entrance fee.

Do You Need Legal Advice About a Personal Injury Case?

Serious and even life-threatening injuries can result from so-called “slip and fall” accidents resulting from the negligence of landowners and others charged with the care and maintenance of real property. If you have been hurt on another’s property, you should talk to an attorney about your legal rights, including the right to pursue fair compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. To schedule a free consultation with a helpful and experienced Cape Cod premises liability lawyer, please call The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664.