Articles Posted in Premises Liability

On April 10, 2014, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in Sheehan v. Weaver, held that owners/occupiers of certain buildings, as described under G.L. c. 143, § 51, are strictly liable for injuries caused by building code violations. The ruling applies to places of assembly and by the terms of the statute to special halls, public halls, factories, workshops, manufacturing establishments and “building[s]” as construed by the Court. As noted in the decision, “building” as used in the statute is narrowly defined. Single-family homes, owner-occupied two-family homes, and small scale residential structures would not be “buildings” covered by the ruling. The determining factor is not whether property use is “commercial” or “public.” Rather, the focus under the ruling is whether the property at issue is a place at which large numbers of people gather for occupational, entertainment, or other purposes. Such places must have been designed for continuing public assembly.
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Only days after a fire in an Allston building killed a Boston University student, the owner of the building, Anna Belokurova, has reportedly been cited by Boston police for allegedly running an illegal rooming house, and using the basement of the premises as bedrooms. According to Boston police, Belokurova allowed 19 people to live in the 2 story house, a violation of a Boston city ordinance. The ordinance states that a maximum of 4 unrelated students may live in a dwelling at one time, and according to police, there were 6 Boston University students living on the premises at the time of Lee’s death. Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said that his office was also investigating the incident to determine if criminal charges may be brought.
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On February 15, 2013, David W. Heinlein, a partner at Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C., with offices in Boston, Cambridge and Natick, obtained a personal injury jury verdict in Las Vegas against the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in the amount of $1,291,435.53. The jury, in this case involving a car striking a pedestrian, entered its verdict on Friday evening after a week-long trial. Once the post-trial calculations are added to the verdict, the judgment is expected to be well in excess of $1.5 Million.
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The Massachusetts Recreational Use Statute, G.L. c. 21, § 17C, provides, in part, that “any person having an interest in land . . . who lawfully permits the public to use such land for recreational . . . purposes without imposing a charge of fee therefor . . . shall not be liable for personal injuries . . . sustained by such members of the public . . . while on said land in the absence of wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct by such person.” Some Courts have focused on whether the injured party actually handed over money in exchange for access the land when determining whether a landowner/occupier is entitled to immunity for negligence. As a result, the Recreational Use statute has been interpreted by some courts to lead to absurd results where one visitor may be entitled to common law duty of care, but another visiting on an admission-free day, may be without remedy when injured. Moreover, some premises liability victims have been left without remedy despite the fact that the landowner/occupier is making substantial sums from activities at the location at issue, either through direct payments from user groups or due to the sale of goods and services on the premises. Such interpretations have improperly expanded the scope of immunity under the Recreational Use statute.
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