Liability an Issue in Maine Snowmobile Accidents

A rash of fatal snowmobile accidents this month has authorities preaching caution through the remainder of the riding season.

The most recent incident claimed the lives of a father and son in Hermon. The Maine Warden Service says a 33-year-old man and his 10-year-old son were killed in a crash about 1 a.m. after their snowmobile collided with a tree at the edge of a field. Authorities also reported the death of a 53-year-old man in a separate incident. Speed is being cited as a contributing factor in both accidents.

As we recently reported, Title 14 Part 1 Chapter 7 159-A provides added protection for many landowners. The law limits liability for recreational activities by limiting a property owner’s duty of care for permissive uses. Essentially, what this means is if a farmer or other landowner permits recreational activity on owned land, the landowner does not owe visitors a higher duty of care as a customer or invited guest, which would otherwise be owed under Maine premises liability laws.

Trespassers are afforded even fewer protections.

This does not mean someone injured or killed in a snowmobile accident cannot make a claim for damages. What it does mean is that contacting an experienced snowboard accident attorney in Maine is best done as soon as possible after a serious or fatal accident. These are complex cases, and identifying liable parties will be critical to making a successful recovery.

The number of snowmobile accidents is on the rise in Maine. U.S. News and World Report reported the number of registered snowmobiles surged last year to 64,000. The Maine Snowmobile Association reported a year-over-year increase of more than 5,000 registered snowmobiles. The deadliest year for Maine snowmobile fatalities was the winter of 2002-2003, when 16 riders were killed.

With more than 14,000 miles of groomed and marked snowmobile trails, Maine boasts some of the best riding in the country. The Maine Snowmobile Association reports more than 95 percent of those trails are on private property. The agency also offers a Snowmobile Maine riders guide for the 2017-2018 winter riding season. Some highlights include:

  • Riders must be a valid Maine resident or possess a non-resident snowmobile registration to legally ride on the trail system. Riders are encouraged to carry liability insurance. Dangerous off-limits areas include cemeteries, railroad rights of way, public sidewalks, or across open water. Utility corridor/powerline snowmobiling is only permitted on authorized snowmobile trails.
  • Children under age 18 are required to wear a helmet. Riders under 10 are not permitted to operate a snowmobile off a parent’s property without adult supervision.
  • It is against the law to operate a snowmobile on private land, outside marked riding trails, without landowner permission.
  • While there is no statewide speed limit, riders should obey posted speed limits. A safe riding speed should allow a rider to stay on the right-hand side of the trail, maintain control, and allow for a safe and controlled stop within a rider’s range of visibility.
  • Riders should use hand signals and ride defensively.
  • Be prepared:  layered clothing, a good helmet, and maintenance and first-aid supplies are all essentials. Riders should also have a fully charged cell phone but should be aware that cell phone service may be spotty or nonexistent once away from populated areas.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.

Common sense can go a long way in keeping riders safer through the remainder of Maine’s winter riding season.

If you are injured, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

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Black Ice Blamed in Numerous Maine Car Accidents Recently, Dec. 14, 2017, Bangor Car Accident Attorney Blog

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