A 21-year-old man from Ghent, N.Y., was hiking with his girlfriend when he slipped on a rock and was sent falling to his death below a waterfall at Bash Bish Falls in Mount Washington. Days later, his body was located through the use of an underwater camera; however, Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless initially determined that the body was unrecoverable based on the location. After several days, the body ultimately was retrieved from a crevice beneath the water.
Bash Bish Falls is home to the highest waterfall in the state. It is located next to Mount Washington State Forest, which is in the southwest corner of Massachusetts. When things go very wrong in a park or lake, is someone legally responsible?
Statute Involving Recreational Landowner Liability
Massachusetts has long adhered to a provision that limits landowner liability for injuries that occur on their property when the public is using the land for recreation, scientific education, and conservation. This extends to buildings, equipment, bodies of water, and other areas where the public is permitted without an entrance fee.
Landowners are immune from civil liability for injuries and damages that occur, unless they demonstrated purposeful, reckless, or willful conduct.
Statute Involving Governmental Liability
The accidental death discussed here at Bash Bish Falls was unique in that it occurred in a recreational area that also happened to be on state-owned property.
As far as liability goes, the state could potentially be shielded by Massachusetts’s governmental immunity statute. Generally, governmental entities are immune from tort as outlined in the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. There are at least two provisions that could hypothetically be employed as a defense here based on the circumstances.
- A “failure to prevent harm” provision makes localities immune from claims based on failures to act to prevent harm from dangerous conditions.
- The “inspection of property” provision makes localities immune from a failure to inspect whether dangerous conditions exist on their property.
If You Are Hurt, It Never Hurts to See a Lawyer
Accidents happen quickly and unexpectedly, but the negative consequences can be long-term. The premises liability attorneys at DiBella Law Offices, P.C., may be able to seek financial retribution for those seriously injured as a result of reckless actions. Contact us today for a free case evaluation at (781) 262-3338.