The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court says that a man’s personal injury lawsuit against the city of Newton over a falling tree branch accident can proceed. The state’s highest court’s ruling rejected the city’s appeal claiming that the recreational use statute protects Newton from being sued for the plaintiff’s injuries. However, the SJC’s ruling does not answer the question of whether Newton can actually be held liable for these injuries.
The plaintiff, 52-year-old Edward Marcus, shattered his shoulder blades and fractured two of his ribs when a tree branch landed on his back on July 8, 2007. At the time, he was seated in the shade below some trees at McGrath Field while waiting to go up to bat during a Coed Jewish Sports-organized softball game. (The field is owned by the city of Newton. However, according to the city, it doesn’t own the tree, which is rooted in land that belongs to Temple Shalom. Marcus’s Newton personal injury lawyer has countered that seeing as the branch was hanging over public property, it posed a hazard that the city should have remedied.)
Under Massachusetts’ recreational use statute, a property owner that lets the public use the land for recreation without charging a fee isn’t liable for property damage or personal injury unless it engaged in conduct that was “willful, wanton, or reckless.” The SJC’s ruling in this Newton premises liability lawsuit was impacted by whether or not it considered the registration payment that Marcus paid to participate in the softball game to be a “fee” collected by the city.
Marcus had paid $80 to Coed Jewish Sports to become a member of the league. The registration fee went toward the purchase of a permit for him from the city of Newton. Although the city had argued that the permit cost was not an admission fee to play on McGrath Field, the SJC ruled that even though Marcus did not directly pay the city any money he had paid Newton for the permit through Coed Jewish Sports. The SJC also noted that the falling tree branch accident occurred on city property during a time that was reserved by the permit.
In the wake of the SJC’s ruling, Marcus can pursue his case in Middlesex County Superior Court.
Massachusetts Premises Liability
If you believe that you or someone you love was injured on another party’s property due to the latter’s negligence, please contact our Boston injury lawyers to find out whether you have grounds for a civil claim.
Man hurt by falling branch can sue city of Newton, SJC rules, Boston.com, May 7, 2012
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