Massachusetts, like many states, has what is known as a recreational use statute. Recreational use statutes provide some amount of immunity to landowners who open their property to the public for recreational use. Pursuant to the Massachusetts statute, landowners who open their property to the public for recreational purposes without imposing a charge or fee are not liable for personal injury, absent willful, wanton, or reckless contact. G.L. c. 21, § 17C(a). The statute therefore encourages landowners to open their property up to the recreational use of the public for free. The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently considered whether it barred a negligence claim of a woman who was injured by a go-cart while her children were driving go-carts, when the mother had not paid an admission fee for herself but had purchased ride tickets for her sons, in the case of Amaral v. Seekonk Grand Prix Corp.
The defendant is a corporation that runs a recreational facility. The defendant charges fees for a number of activities, including go-carts, bumper cars, and miniature golf. The defendant does not charge an admission fee or charge spectators.
The plaintiff and her minor sons went to the facility. She bought tickets for the boys to ride the go-carts. She stood behind a fence to watch them, and a girl drove a go-cart through the fence and hit her. As a result of her injuries, the plaintiff ultimately suffered a pulmonary embolism.
The plaintiff sued the defendant in negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, based on the recreational use statute. The trial court cited case law that indicated the statute bars claims when the landowner does not charge for the injured person’s recreational use of the property. The trial court found that the plaintiff used the facility as a spectator, and the statute provided immunity because there was no charge to spectators.
The court identified three elements required for the statute to apply. First, the defendant must have an interest in the land. This element was not disputed. Second, the plaintiff must be injured while being engaged in a recreational activity on the property. Third, the defendant must not have imposed or charged a fee for the plaintiff’s use of the property.
The court noted that it is not settled whether a spectator is engaged in a recreational use of the land, but it found it did not need to reach that issue here. The plaintiff was a parent who had purchased tickets for her minor children. The court found that she was using the facility for her children’s recreation. The facility could foresee that a parent who paid fees for her minor children would be considered a paying customer. The court found that the plaintiff had paid for her use of the facility. The court found that applying immunity here would undermine the statute’s purpose of promoting the free public use of land for recreation. The Appeals Court vacated the judgment and remanded the case.
While the result here seems to be in line with the purpose of the statute, the Appeals Court unfortunately still has not addressed whether a spectator is engaged in recreational use of the land. It is unclear what the court would have decided if the plaintiff had not made a purchase. If you have been injured on someone else’s property, an experienced Massachusetts attorney can help you pursue your claim. Call the Law Offices of Richard Mucci at (781) 729-3999 to make an appointment to discuss your case.