When a plaintiff is injured in a motor vehicle accident, the parties are generally clear-cut: driver vs. driver. However, personal injuries occurring on land often present more difficult scenarios when determining whether the landowner owed a duty of care and, if so, how much responsibility the landowner should assume.
What’s more, it may be unclear at the outset whether the responsible party is the landowner, tenant, business owner or even another guest. Maine laws with regard to premises liability are unique and distinctive from those in other jurisdictions.
If you need help understanding property owner duties in Maine and your legal options in the event of an injury, Hardy, Wolf and Downing offer expert advice on your rights to pursuing compensation. Our premises liability lawyers have been successfully advocating on behalf of residents living in Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, and Bangor for decades.
Landowner Responsibilities and Liability Overview
Maine laws take a unique approach to premises liability – unlike the classification-of-status approach used by most other states. Following the historic decision in Poulin vs. Colby College, the Maine Supreme Court opted to abolish the traditional invitee and licensee distinctions in premises liability cases in exchange for an even-handed application of liability and landowner duty of care.
A landowner, whether a retail store, recreational area or private individual, owes a duty of reasonable care and safety to all guests who are lawfully on the property. In the context of a shopping mall or retail store, this duty includes ensuring aisles are clear and free from spills, public areas are orderly and uncluttered, and hazards are clearly marked with caution signs. These landowners generally have a duty to conduct a reasonable inspection of the property as well, as the law will generally assign liability to a landowner – even if he didn’t know about a hazard – if a reasonable inspection would have revealed the issue.
Private landowners owe a similar duty to their guests and must take steps to ensure the property is safe for others who will be present. This could include penning up dangerous dogs, repairing a broken step, or repairing a hole in the yard. Like business owners, private homeowners are generally charged with knowledge of hazards that a reasonable inspection would have revealed. Therefore, it is generally no defense that a landowner didn’t know about a particular hazard if that landowner would have found the issue after an inspection of the property.
Unlike an invited guest or business customer, trespassers are not protected under Maine laws and can generally not initiate a premises liability lawsuit against a landowner following an injury. One important caveat to this rule, however, is the notion that a landowner cannot purposely set up deadly traps or dangerous conditions on purpose in order to injure trespassers. In other words, a landowner who sets out to intentionally harm a trespasser – particularly if the landowner is aware trespassers frequent the property – could face a liability of his own.
Maine Landowner Liability Law
Maine is a robust and active recreational area teeming with hunting, fishing, boating and snow activities. As a result, the Maine legislature enacted the Maine Landowner Liability Law in response to the frequency with which people travel across property belonging to others while engaging in recreational pursuits. The crux of the law is that a private landowner is not liable for injuries occurring to a trespasser if that person crosses across the landowner’s property for purposes of “outdoor recreation” or harvesting. What’s more, a landowner is similarly not responsible even if he or she gives permission to use the property.
Under the statute, the following activities are included within the definition of outdoor recreation: hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, hiking, sight-seeing, bird watching, operating snow-traveling and all-terrain vehicles, skiing, hang-gliding, noncommercial aviation activities, dog sledding, equine activities, boating, sailing, canoeing, rafting, biking, picnicking, swimming or activities involving the harvesting or gathering of forest, field and marine products.
Deciding Who to Sue
Determining the correct defendant to sue following a slip-and-fall or a personal injury lawsuit can be complex in some cases, which is why plaintiffs are encouraged to always work with a knowledgeable premises liability lawyer throughout the process. In the context of leased property, the lessee (i.e., tenant) is generally responsible for maintaining the property in a safe manner.
The policy behind this concept is that a landlord is typically not involved in the daily upkeep of a property leased to another. Another possible situation involves property maintained by building managers, such as an apartment or condominium complex. In this scenario, it is generally the responsibility of the manager to keep the premises clean, and the manager could face liability for failing to keep the property in a safe condition.
How Hardy, Wolf & Downing Can Help
Maine laws on landowner responsibilities are complex and nuanced. The premises liability attorneys at Hardy, Wolf & Downing are equipped with the experience and legal knowledge necessary to help you determine if your personal injury is compensable under Maine’s unique premises liability structure.
For legal counsel, you can trust, get in touch by calling 1-800-INJURED or by filling out our Contact Us form.
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