What began as a fun way to kick off the fall festivities ended in tragedy recently when those aboard a haunted hayride in Maine were dragged by an out-of-control Jeep towing a trailer with nearly two dozen passengers down a steep hill.
All 22 injured passengers and the driver were thrown when the Jeep struck a tree. A 17-year-old girl was killed. Although police in Mechanic Falls are still investigating the exact cause, they suspect brake problems with the 1979 Jeep are to blame.
From a personal injury and wrongful death standpoint, there are numerous individuals and entities that are likely to find themselves named as defendants. The driver would be one. The owner of the vehicle, if different than the driver, would likely also be named, as would the event organizers. The land owner or possessor also may face premises liability claims if there is reason to believe the property was in an unsafe condition and there was no warning.
Our Portland personal injury lawyers understand this incident has highlighted the fact that in most states, these kinds of seasonal businesses tend to face very few safety regulations.
To start, there is no agency that oversees hayrides. In Maine, the state fire marshal’s office is responsible for inspection of amusement park rides. However, there is no state licensing requirement for hayrides.
Unfortunately, the injuries sustained in hayride accidents tend to be significant due to the fact that you have a large number of people crammed unsecured onto a large trailer traversing rough terrain, often in the dark. Though operators tend to move more slowly than vehicles on an average road, the sheer weight and size of these vehicles makes serious injury a real possibility in the event the vehicle crashes or overturns. Falls are another common risk.
In some places – Tennessee, for example – people on hayrides are specifically exempt from the legal requirement to wear seat belts. Others, such as Wyoming, Texas and Connecticut, grant exemptions for people to ride openly in the back of a flatbed or pickup truck if they are on a hayride, actions that would otherwise be deemed illegal.
But of course, the reason those actions are illegal in the first place is because they are dangerous. Stuffing the back of the trailer or truck bed with hay and pumpkins doesn’t make it any less hazardous.
Regulation is largely left to the discretion of local municipalities, which means it’s generally inconsistent and often non-existent.
What happened here in Maine was not an isolated incident. Earlier in October, a 35-year-old woman from Missouri suffered serious injury when she fell off the fender of a tractor while on a hayride and was run over by the tractor. In Minnesota, a 59-year-old man died in September after falling through two hay racks tied together to be pulled by a tractor for a hayride. Last year, nine people were hospitalized in Michigan after a hayride tractor overturned. The driver in that case was later charged with reckless driving, his blood-alcohol level found to be just shy of the legal limit. And in July of last year, 11 children were hospitalized in Florida after the trailer became detached from the tractor, sending the trailer full of children careening backward into nearby trees before tipping over.
If you are the victim of an injury accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Hayrides in many states face few regulations, Oct. 13, 2014, By Ryan Adair, USA Today
More Blog Entries:
Dangerous Property Poses Hazards for Maine Tenants, Oct. 10, 2014, Maine Injury Lawyer Blog