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Amaral v. Seekonk Grand Prix Corp.

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Bristol

January 14, 2016

SUSAN M. AMARAL
v.
SEEKONK GRAND PRIX CORP.

Heard October 6, 2014.

Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on May 2, 2012.

The case was heard by Richard T. Moses, J., on a motion for summary judgment.

Melody A. Alger for plaintiff.

Jacqueline L. Allen for the defendant.

Present: Cypher, Grainger, & Maldonado, JJ.

MALDONADO, J.

The Massachusetts recreational use statute[1]provides that those who make their land available to the public for "recreational . . . purposes without imposing a charge or fee therefor, . . . shall not be liable for personal injuries . . . sustained by such members of the public ... in the absence of wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct by [the landowner]." G. L. c. 21, § 17C(a.), as appearing in St. 1998, c. 268. In this case, we are asked whether the statute bars a claim of negligence asserted by a mother (the plaintiff) who was injured by an errant "go-cart" while watching her sons drive go-carts at the defendant's recreational facility. The facility does not charge an admission onto the grounds but sells tickets for its rides, and the plaintiff had purchased tickets for use by her sons. We conclude that the statute does not bar relief for injuries caused by negligence in these circumstances.

Background.

Seekonk Grand Prix Corp.[2] (Grand Prix) is a Massachusetts corporation that operates a commercial recreational facility offering, among other activities, go-cart races. Grand Prix charges a fee for the go-carts, miniature golf, bumper cars, and other similar activities. It does not charge a fee to watch these activities, nor does it charge a fee to enter the facility.

On May 25, 2009, the plaintiff took her two sons, ages eleven and thirteen years of age, to Grand Prix's facility. She purchased six tickets for her sons' use. At the time of the injury, she was standing behind a chain link fence as she watched her sons drive the go-carts. After the other drivers had returned to the station, a go-cart driven by a young girl went through the fence and struck the plaintiff, causing a number of injuries, including a pulmonary embolism that resulted from a blood clot in her left leg.

The plaintiff filed a negligence action against Grand Prix in the Superior Court. A judge of that court granted Grand Prix's motion for summary judgment based on the recreational use statute, citing case law indicating that the statute provides immunity from liability when a landowner does not impose a charge or fee for an injured plaintiff's recreational use of the land. See Seich v. Canton, 426 Mass. 84, 85-86 (1997); Whooley v. Commonwealth, 57 Mass.App.Ct. 909, 910 (2003) . Contrast Marcus v. Newton, 462 Mass. 148, 155 (2012);. The judge concluded that Grand Prix was entitled to immunity from liability under the statute because the plaintiff was using the facility in a recreational capacity as a spectator and the facility did not charge the plaintiff or other members of the public for this particular recreational use of the property.

Discussion.

1. Standard of ...


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