It’s winter and there is finally lots of snow! Snowmobilers are out enjoying winter. However, riders, passengers, and bystanders need to exercise caution because there are inherent risks of snowmobiling and accidents.
Unfortunately, last week in Southwick, Massachusetts, Wayne Szeczepanick died while riding a snowmobile when his machine hit the wall in a culvert between South Pond and Middle Pond under Congamond Road, Route 168. According to the Southwick police, he was trying to skim the snowmobile over the water in the culvert. Somehow he crashed into the wall of the culvert, fell off the machine, and drowned. As locals report, the water in tunnel between the two ponds usually does not freeze and snowmobile riders attempt to skim it when travelling from one pond to the next. He was with friends and sadly could not be revived, even after the emergency medical personnel arrived. Mr. Szeczepanick, an experienced machine operator, was a tri-axle dump truck driver for a company in Westfield.
Snowmobile safety involves much more than a blog article can articulate, however, a few pointers are worthy of mentioning:
- Be sure your machine is in good working order
- If towing your machine, be sure your vehicle and trailer is properly equipped
- Be prepared for the weather – wear serious winter gear
- Be prepared for the ride – know where you are going and how you are getting back
- Ride safely – take a class if you are unaware of snowmobile riding safe practices
- Go with others
- Be prepared for Emergencies – being in remote areas necessitates planning for a myriad of emergency situations
- If you don’t know the area, or are in a high risk area, ride slowly
- Wear a helmet
Massachusetts Recreational Use Law Protects Landowners
When assessing negligence cases that involve snowmobile accidents, personal injury trial attorneys often need to look beyond the obvious facts. A landowner can be negligent and even when there is negligence, we need to review the facts because of a special law that protects landowners.
The Recreational Use Statute, Chapter 21 Section 17C was last amended in 1998. It’s been around for a while. Essentially, it says that a landowner is protected from liability against a person who uses the land for recreational or educational purposes if the landowner allows all people to use the land, without charge.
The exception is for “willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.” While the exception leaves room for factual interpretation, it is usually hard to prove that a landowner’s conduct was willful, wanton, or reckless. And, if it was, it is possible that an insurance company would not insure against such conduct.
In a snowmobile wrongful death case many years ago, a rider was decapitated when he rode through a closed road with a chain across the road. The Court found that since the land was open to the public, the Recreation Use Statute shielded the landowner from all liability.
Snowmobile Accident Attorney
If you or a loved one were injured in a snowmobile accident, call an attorney has experience with this area of law, premises liability and the Recreational Use Statute. Call Attorney Neil Burns for a free consultation: 617-227-7423.