Duty of care for a Massachusetts campground is to warn of dangerous conditions.

Plaintiff assumes the risk of his injury at a commercial campground if there is not dangerous condition and/or he knows about the condition because he walks the trail during the day.

Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

State: Massachusetts, Appeals Court of Massachusetts

Plaintiff: Anthony Monaco

Defendant: Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc.’s (VCRI’s) Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in failing to light the “pathway”3 and maintain it in a safe condition, to warn against its use, or to construct a graded path in its place

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

This case involves a commercial campground. The plaintiff was walking up to the restroom at night and fell on the path. He sued for his injuries. The plaintiff sued the campground and others who were never clearly identified in the appellate decision.

The lower court stated the plaintiff assumed the risk based upon the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first reviewed the requirements for a negligence suit to succeed under Massachusetts law and condensed the four steps to one sentence. “To succeed in an action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages.” The duty of care is only owed to those who are foreseeably endangered by the contact with the defendant.

Not every risk that might be foreseen gives rise to a duty to avoid a course of conduct; a duty arises because the likelihood and magnitude of the risk perceived is such that the conduct is unreasonably dangerous.

The duty of a land owner in Massachusetts is that of reasonable care “under all the circumstances in the maintenance and operation of their property.”

Although landowners should anticipate and take measures to avoid the risks that their property poses to invitees, they are not obligated to “consistently and constantly” check for dangerous conditions. The law does not impose a duty on landowners to exercise precautions, unless the dangers are “readily observable” by landowners and imperceptible to invitees. That is, an open and obvious danger negates the existence of a duty of care.

The fact that the plaintiff was injured does not create a legal obligation or duty on the part of the defendant. Evidence is needed to support the lack of care or proof the landowner k of the dangerous condition.

…evidence, other than “the obviousness of the steep slope,” that the pathway posed an apparent danger. To support his claim, the plaintiff submitted expert testimony that the pathway was “rutted,” “uneven,” and “unlit,” and did not comport with International Building Code standards.

The plaintiff had descended the hill earlier and had not seen a dangerous condition. In fact, the plaintiff had been using the campground for eighteen years and had used the path three times the day he fell.

Nor had a dangerous condition on the hillside been identified or spotted during the camps annual inspection.

Both parties had ample opportunities to observe the campground, yet neither noticed any unreasonable dangers. The only risk associated with the pathway was the open and obvious nature of its slope and uneven terrain, which did not impose any duty on the defendants to light or otherwise improve the path.

The court held the defendants owed not duty to protect the plaintiff from the conditions on the pathway.

So Now What?

The requirement that a landowner is not obligated to consistently and constantly check for dangerous conditions is not found in all states. In most states if the dangerous condition exists, the landowner must fix it or warn of it.

The obligations or duties owed to people on your land are usually based upon the reasons why the injured person was originally upon your land. In Massachusetts that issue is not discussed.

Here the obligation was to warn or correct dangerous conditions. It did not matter why the person was on the land.

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Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

Anthony Monaco vs. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., & another.1

1 Jayne Cohen.

14-P-141

APPEALS COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS

86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

December 18, 2014, Entered

NOTICE: DECISIONS ISSUED BY THE APPEALS COURT PURSUANT TO ITS RULE 1:28 ARE PRIMARILY ADDRESSED TO THE PARTIES AND, THEREFORE, MAY NOT FULLY ADDRESS THE FACTS OF THE CASE OR THE PANEL’S DECISIONAL RATIONALE. MOREOVER, RULE 1:28 DECISIONS ARE NOT CIRCULATED TO THE ENTIRE COURT AND, THEREFORE, REPRESENT ONLY THE VIEWS OF THE PANEL THAT DECIDED THE CASE. A SUMMARY DECISION PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28, ISSUED AFTER FEBRUARY 25, 2008, MAY BE CITED FOR ITS PERSUASIVE VALUE BUT, BECAUSE OF THE LIMITATIONS NOTED ABOVE, NOT AS BINDING PRECEDENT.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE MASSACHUSETTS APPEALS COURT REPORTS.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE NORTH EASTERN REPORTER.

DISPOSITION: [*1] Judgment affirmed.

CORE TERMS: pathway, campground, landowners, summary judgment, favorable, allowance, obvious danger, duty of care, citation omitted, unreasonably dangerous, obstructions, deposition, anticipate, precautions, unexpected, invitees, uneven, slope, fault, owe, shower, paved, path, owed

JUDGES: Cypher, Fecteau & Massing, JJ.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28

Anthony Monaco seeks to recover for serious injuries he sustained when he fell down a grassy hill that campers used to reach a shower building located on Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc.’s (VCRI’s) Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground in New Hampton, New Hampshire. The plaintiff alleges that VCRI and Jayne Cohen2 were negligent in failing to light the “pathway”3 and maintain it in a safe condition, to warn against its use, or to construct a graded path in its place. A Superior Court judge allowed the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, reasoning that traversing the shortcut in lieu of existing paved pathways, and in darkness, is an “obvious baseline danger,” and that the defendants therefore owed no duty. We affirm.

2 Cohen served as president of Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., during the time of the incident in question.

3 Construing the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and noting that the shower building was marked with a “restroom” sign visible from the paved road above, we accept the plaintiff’s characterization [*2] of the route between the road and the building as a pathway.

In reviewing the trial court judge’s allowance of a motion for summary judgment, we consider the evidence submitted with the motion, which may include “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits.” Highlands Ins. Co. v. Aerovox, Inc., 424 Mass. 226, 232, 676 N.E.2d 801 (1997) (citation omitted). See Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c), as amended, 436 Mass. 1404 (2002). We construe inferences drawn from the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and review de novo the trial court judge’s application of the law to the facts. LeBlanc v. Logan Hilton Joint Venture, 463 Mass. 316, 318, 974 N.E.2d 34 (2012). Allowance of the motion will survive appellate review so long as there is “no genuine issue” of “material fact” and “the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Id. at 325-326. Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

To succeed in an action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages. Ronayne v. State, 137 N.H. 281, 284, 632 A.2d 1210 (1993).4 “[P]ersons owe a duty of care ‘only to those who they foreseeably endanger by their conduct.'” Manchenton v. Auto Leasing Corp., 135 N.H. 298, 304, 605 A.2d 208 (1992) [*3] (citation omitted). “Not every risk that might be foreseen gives rise to a duty to avoid a course of conduct; a duty arises because the likelihood and magnitude of the risk perceived is such that the conduct is unreasonably dangerous.” Id. at 305.

4 The trial court judge determined that New Hampshire’s substantive law governed this action. The parties do not dispute that the choice of New Hampshire law is appropriate under the circumstances of this case.

“[O]wners and occupiers of land owe plaintiffs a duty of reasonable care under all the circumstances in the maintenance and operation of their property.” Werne v. Exec. Women’s Golf Assn., 158 N.H. 373, 376, 969 A.2d 346 (2009). Although landowners should anticipate and take measures to avoid the risks that their property poses to invitees, they are not obligated to “consistently and constantly” check for dangerous conditions. See Pesaturo v. Kinne, 161 N.H. 550, 555, 20 A.3d 284 (2011). The law does not impose a duty on landowners to exercise precautions, unless the dangers are “readily observable” by landowners and imperceptible to invitees. Ibid. Lawrence v. Hollerich, 394 N.W.2d 853, 855 (Minn. App. Ct. 1986). That is, an open and obvious danger negates the [*4] existence of a duty of care. Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 422, 807 A.2d 1274 (2002).

The mere fact that the plaintiff was injured does not trigger a legal duty on the defendants. He must produce some evidence, other than “the obviousness of the steep slope,” that the pathway posed an apparent danger. Lawrence, 394 N.W.2d at 856. To support his claim, the plaintiff submitted expert testimony that the pathway was “rutted,” “uneven,” and “unlit,” and did not comport with International Building Code standards. However, other evidence revealed that the condition of the pathway, as it appeared to both parties, posed no greater risk than walkways maintained by landowners in their ordinary exercise of care. Cf. Paquette v. Joyce, 117 N.H. 832, 835, 379 A.2d 207 (1977). Monaco testified at his deposition that he was not aware of any treacherous condition as he was descending the hill, and Cohen never observed any “unexpected,” unreasonably dangerous condition, Ahern v. Amoskeag Mfg. Co., 75 N.H. 99, 101, 102, 71 A. 213 (1908), during her annual visual inspections of the campground. Thus, Monaco’s inattention to obvious dangers on the pathway was the only risk presented, which did not impose on the [*5] defendants a duty to exercise precautions. Contrast Hacking v. Belmont, 143 N.H. 546, 553, 736 A.2d 1229 (1999) (defendant liable for “unreasonably increased or concealed” risks not inherent in the game of basketball).

Moreover, “[t]here is nothing unfamiliar about the inability to perceive in the dark obstructions to the course of one who walks without light.” Ahern, supra at 101. That is, “[i]f there may be obstructions whose presence cannot be ascertained by the eye, due care requires the use of some other sense to detect them.” Ibid. When the evidence is “uncontradicted” that the plaintiff was familiar with the area where the accident occurred and that the injury occurred because of an “unexpected” condition, the defendant is not at fault for failing to anticipate it. Ibid. Unless the defendant had superior knowledge of the danger, “[i]t cannot reasonably be found that of two persons of equal knowledge and of equal ability to appreciate and understand a danger, one is in fault for not apprehending the danger and the other is not.” Id. at 102.

In this case, Monaco’s knowledge and appreciation of the condition of the pathway was equal to the defendants’. Monaco had camped on the campground once per [*6] year for eighteen years and had used the pathway three times without incident on the day of his fall. Likewise, VCRI had been operating the campground for over two decades, and Cohen was VCRI’s president for approximately six years. Both parties had ample opportunities to observe the campground, yet neither noticed any unreasonable dangers. The only risk associated with the pathway was the open and obvious nature of its slope and uneven terrain, which did not impose any duty on the defendants to light or otherwise improve the path.

Conclusion. Drawing all inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we conclude that the defendants owed no duty to protect him against the injury-causing condition of the pathway. The allowance of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was proper.

Judgment affirmed.

By the Court (Cypher, Fecteau & Massing, JJ.5),

5 The panelists are listed in order of seniority.

Entered: December 18, 2014.