Articles Posted in Premise Liability

As a general rule, Maine personal injury laws hold people accountable for injuries that are caused by their negligence. In many cases, the basis of a personal injury suit is the defendant’s negligent action; however, a lawsuit can also be premised on a defendant’s failure to act. This is frequently the case in Maine premises liability cases.

Under Maine premises liability law, property owners and lessees owe a duty of care to those whom they invite onto their property. However, landowners do not owe the same duty to those who enter the property without permission. Courts generally do not require a plaintiff to prove that they were formally invited onto a property before finding that the property owner owed them a duty. Instead, courts consider the surrounding circumstances when making the determination. For example, a customer who enters a business establishment will be presumed to be an invited guest, even if they do not intend to make a purchase.

An important exception to the general rule that property owners owe a duty to those whom they invite onto their land is the Maine recreational use statute. A recreational use statute is a law that specifically prohibits certain lawsuits that are based on injuries occurring while engaging in recreational activity on the defendant’s land. The idea behind recreational use statutes is that the government wants to encourage landowners to allow the general public to enjoy their land without fear of being financially responsible for any injuries occurring as a result.

Earlier this year, the First Circuit Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a premises liability case involving a slip-and-fall accident at a wedding. While the case did not arise under Maine law, it is relevant to Maine slip-and-fall accident victims because it shows the tendencies of the federal circuit court overseeing Maine courts. The case required the court to determine if the lower court correctly denied the plaintiff’s post-trial motion seeking judgment as a matter of law. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence supported the jury’s verdict, dismissing the plaintiff’s case.

As the court described the events leading up to the filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiff was a guest at a wedding which was located at the defendant resort. The wedding venue was adjacent to the swimming pool. As the night went on, and guests began to enjoy themselves, several of the guests started jumping in the pool. After getting into the pool, the guests returned to the dance floor. This resulted in the dance floor getting wet.

The plaintiff was walking across the dance floor, heading to the restroom to change into her bathing suit, when she slipped and fell. As a result of her fall, she fractured her wrist and seriously injured her back. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the resort. The case proceeded to trial, where a jury determined that the resort was not negligent. The plaintiff filed a post-trial motion, arguing that she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that the evidence did not support the jury’s verdict. That motion was denied, and the plaintiff appealed.

Tourism in Maine has reached an all-time high the last several years, with the Maine Office of Tourism reporting an uptick of 8.8 million annual visitors from 2012 to 2018. These tourists spend billions of dollars, support thousands of businesses and more than 105,000 jobs in the state. Among those businesses supported by travelers: Hotels, motels, resorts and rental properties. These property owners owe a duty of care to those on their property. Our Bangor personal injury attorneys note some of these duties may include the responsibility to provide:

  • Adequate security.
  • Safe walking surfaces.
  • Safe ingress/egress.
  • Repair of conditions that might be dangerous (i.e., a broken step, poor lighting, unsafe deck).
  • Adequate lighting

Property owners who fail or don’t regularly inspect conditions on-site to ensure they are reasonably safe for guests may be held responsible in court under the theory of premises liability. Although historically the Maine judicial system set standards for duty of care on the basis of guest designation (i.e., invitee, licensee, trespasser), the 1979 Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision in Poulin v. Colby College changed how property liability is determined. In that case, plaintiff sued a college for injuries sustained in a fall on campus. He was considered a “licensee” while the person he was dropping off at the campus was considered an “invitee.” Justices held that, “It no longer makes any sense to predicate a landowner’s duty solely on the status of the injured party as either a licensee or invitee. Perhaps in rural society with sparse land settlements and large estates, it would have been unduly burdensome to obligate an owner to inspect and maintain (the property)…” but such immunity wouldn’t be justified in an industrialized society. Continue reading

Concert season is warming up, and it’s a good time to point out that festival and concert injuries can sometimes be compensated via Maine premises liability claims, which assert negligence by venue owner, promoters and sometimes even the entertainers themselves. Portland injury attorneys in Maine know that while most people go to concerts for a good time, it can unfortunately end badly when patrons are injured.

One such incident in Maine occurred last October, when a Portland concertgoer was injured at State Theatre during a show by Dirty Heads. Authorities confirmed the victim was stabbed and 2,000 people inside were evacuated. The theater has a “No Weapons Allowed” policy, so it’s unclear how someone was able to smuggle a knife inside.

Maine injury attorneys know many times what contributes to concert injuries and festival injuries is the combination of large crowds in a tight space, an atmosphere that is emotionally-charged, performers pushing the limits to ever-more-risky displays to wow crowds and the common presence of drugs and alcohol. There have also been issues with unstable pavilions and railings, inadequate security, etc. Not all injuries that occur at concerts will necessarily result in a valid personal injury claim. For a person who is injured while engaging in an activity they know to be risky (like diving in a mosh pit), it may be difficult to prevail in making a claim, unless the venue or promoters have had ongoing problems with such injuries and fail to take reasonable action to mitigate the risks.  Continue reading

Learning good sportsmanship is one of the primary purposes of youth sports. Yet all over the country – and right here in Maine – serious injuries are reported when parents, players, coaches and fans engage in violence both on and off the field.

Our Portland injury lawyers just recently read about a girls soccer field punch during a playoff game at Lisbon High School, a half hour outside Portland. A video clip (viewed more than 73,000 times on social media before it was removed) shows one player swinging at an opposing player after a scored goal. Later in the game, the clip shows that same player attack again, punching the same girl in the face. The victim fell as she tried to dodge the punch and apparently wasn’t seriously hurt, according to the Portland Press Herald. The video is being reviewed by school officials and no criminal charges have been filed. Less than a week later, the Press Herald reported yet another violent attack at a youth sports game, this time at Scarborough High School, where a 20-year-old resident allegedly stabbed a 15-year-old student in the parking lot during a soccer game half-time.

As Maine injury lawyers know, there may be few remedies available for youth sports players who suffer certain injuries in the course of the game. Depending on the nature of the sport, those injuries may be considered the inherent risk one assumes in playing. (Not always, though, so it’s best to at least discuss your rights with an attorney.) However, when an assault or battery occurs at a sporting event, either among fans or between players or even parents, coaches or referees, parties may be found liable under either negligence or intentional tort law. Continue reading

A Massachusetts Appeals Court has affirmed a multi-million dollar wrongful death judgment awarded to the estate of a woman killed after a vehicle ran into a Chicopee convenience store.

We have seen an increasing number of parking lot injuries and storefront crashes throughout New England in recent years. The Storefront Safety Council reports nearly half of these collisions involve a driver over the age of 60 and about half are attributed to operator or pedal error. The group estimate more than 500 people are killed and 3,600 injured in accidents caused by motorists driving into storefronts each year.

This case resulted in a $32 million verdict against a convenience store company after a woman was struck and killed by a speeding sport utility vehicle (SUV) that crashed through a Chicopee storefront, when the 81-year-old driver lost control. The victim’s husband, as executor of her estate, had argued the company was negligent for not installing bollards or taking other safety measures after hundreds of car strikes at its convenience store locations. The company argued it had no duty of care; that the event was completely random and unforeseeable; and that wrongful death was caused by the negligent actions of the at-fault driver.

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The Bangor Daily News reported one teen was killed and another seriously injured in a January sledding accident at a Maine ski resort.

Media reports indicate two teens were riding a sled down a ski trail at about 2 a.m. when they hit a tree, badly injuring one rider and killing the other teen. Both teens reportedly attended Portsmouth High School. An Oxford County sheriff’s deputy said the teens were riding a rubber tube on an expert level course. A resort spokesperson said the resort was closed at the time of the accident and does not allow sledding.

The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) reports sledding fatalities are rare. However, serious and fatal Maine ski accidents are not. The agency reported 33 catastrophic injuries at U.S. ski areas last year. With more than a dozen major ski resorts, Maine remains among the nation’s most active skiing destinations, according to the Ski Maine Association.

Recently, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) posted on her Facebook page that she had suffered a fractured ankle that required surgery after she suffered a slip-and-fall accident at her home. Although she didn’t realize any details about exactly how the fall occurred, she indicated the ankle was broken in two places, but the surgery was successful. 

Slip-and-fall accidents like the one Collins suffered are an increasing occurrence in Maine during the winter months, when accumulations of ice and snow make walkways and entrances especially hazardous.

Of course, brutally cold, icy, and snowy conditions are just a part of life here in Maine, which makes almost any way of traveling potentially dangerous. The state has gone so far in the past as to issue travel bans during blizzards, but those apply to motor vehicle traffic. Still, property owners owe a common law duty of care to keep their sites reasonably free from potentially slippery conditions for workers, customers, and other types of guests.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a summary judgment in favor of a university and against a student who suffered an injury in a slip-and-fall accident on campus.

According to court records, the issue in this case was not the merits of the plaintiff’s case but instead whether she filed within the statutory 180-day filing period according to 14 M.R.S. § 8107, which details the notice that is required when a plaintiff plans to file a lawsuit against a governmental entity. Many colleges are considered governmental entities, and therefore, plaintiffs making injury claims against them must follow such provisions.

Per the facts viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff (as the one against whom the summary judgment was entered), the plaintiff suffered an injury when she slipped and fell on a patch of ice outside her dorm on the Gorham campus of the University of Southern Maine. This injury occurred in mid-January 2014. As a result of that fall, the plaintiff suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments and had to undergo surgery.

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Most businesses carry general liability insurance, particularly if they invite customers on site to do business. That’s because under Maine statutes, a person who is invited onto the property for the financial benefit of the property owner is owed the highest duty of care and has the right to expect they will be reasonably safe. General liability insurance typically covers businesses from liability lawsuits stemming from claims like slip-and-fall injuries, falling merchandise, or some other dangerous condition. 

However, those establishments that sell alcohol and invite patrons to drink on site should consider additional coverage because there are claims unique to these entities. For example, some bars and restaurants face the possibility of dram shop liability, in which those injured by a drunk driver can sue the bar where workers served that driver alcohol. Another possibility is that of third-party liability for criminal assault. Of course, there is a potential for this kind of action in many different business settings, but especially so at a bar where patrons’ inhibitions may be lowered, making some more aggressive and others more vulnerable.

In a recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court case, the question is whether an insurance company should have to indemnify the business for injuries sustained by a man who was beaten by a fellow patron at the bar. The claim by the bar against the insurer doesn’t have a direct bearing on the injury lawsuit filed by the patron, except that by making the bar directly liable rather than the insurer, there is a risk the bar won’t be able to pay out the full damages, depending on how much those damages are and the health of the business.

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