Under Maine premises liability law, landowners and occupiers generally owe a duty to ensure that their property is free from dangerous conditions that could result in unreasonable harm to lawful visitors. Unlike other states, which rely on the classification-of-status approach to premises liability, Maine determines liability based on the injury victim, the cause of the injury, and if the property owner did anything to prevent the damage. This framework applies to landowners, retail stores, some recreational areas, and private individuals. It does not apply to trespassers except if an attractive nuisance is involved. Further, Maine law provides landowners with specific defenses to liability that may limit a plaintiff’s recovery.
Maine’s comparative negligence principles allow plaintiffs to recover for damages even if they were partially responsible so long as they were less than 50% responsible. Defendants will frequently assert comparative negligence defenses by claiming that the dangerous condition was so “open and obvious” that the landowner should not be liable. However, exceptions exist in circumstances where the landowner should anticipate the harm despite the obviousness of the danger. Determinations regarding open and obviousness require a thorough and in-depth analysis of the specific condition.
For example, a state appellate court recently issued an opinion in a case hinging on whether a hole in a parking lot of a shopping center was an open and obvious danger. In that case, a woman parked in a parking spot next to a landscape island that was surrounded by a curb. As she exited her vehicle, she noticed that someone left a shopping cart partially on the island, and she walked around the island to get the cart. As she was dislodging the cart, she stepped back, and her heel went into a pothole, which caused her to lose her balance and fall backward, resulting in serious injuries. The woman filed a lawsuit against the shopping center alleging negligence and wantonness because they failed to warn invitees of hidden dangers. The trial court found that the risk was open and obvious and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.