When I look back over the past month or so (December and January), I see that I have been blogging quite a bit about car and snowmobile accidents. It is no coincidence. This time of year, these kinds of accidents fill up the newspapers and tie up my phone line.
Car accidents happen with greater frequency in winter for two reasons: (1) the slippery conditions and (2) the shorter days (People are driving in the dark more often, with more limited visibility, both on the way to work and back). And do I need to explain why snowmobile accidents happen with greater frequency in winter? I think not!
A few days ago I blogged that car accidents are sometimes the “road’s fault”, that is, that a government entity (New York State, or a town, city or county) negligently designed the road or its signage, traffic control devices, drainage ditches, shoulders, etc. I explained that, in such cases, motor vehicle accident victims may have a valid claim against whatever government entity designed and maintained the roadway.
The same can be said for snowmobile accidents. Sometimes the government or a private party owns and maintains snowmobile trails. Sometimes snowmobile accidents are caused by the poor maintenance, planning, or design of those trails.
But hold on! These are not easy cases. Even though the landowner may be at fault, there is a special statute in New York that protects them in many cases. It is called General Obligations Law section 9-103. This law provides that landowners “have no duty to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for (among other things) snowmobile operation” and that they have no duty to “give warning of any hazardous condition or use of or structure or activity on such premises to persons entering for such purposes”. In other words, generally you can’t sue the landowner for dangerous snowmobiling conditions, or even for failing to warn you about them.
The law’s purpose is laudable; it encourages landowners to open up their property for snowmobiling and other recreational use by the public. Many landowners would be reluctant to do so if they thought they could be sued for accidents that happen on their property.
But there are many exceptions to the blanket protection provided by Obligations Law section 9-103. By way of example only, a government entity such as a County, that opens up its land for snowmobile use, and maintains snowmobile trails, may be held liable under a “public parks” exception to the rule. In fact, Michaels & Smolak is currently litigating such a case against Oswego County. There are many other such exceptions, too.
Make no mistake; the number one cause of snowmobile accidents is unsafe driving.But if you or a loved one is injured in a snowmobile accident and you believe it might have been at least partly “the trail’s fault”, call a New York snowmobile accident lawyer to discuss the case.