Elephant Rock Beach Club, Inc., the Defendant, operated a a private beach club in Westport, Massachusetts. The area, as well as the beach along the property, was open to members and their paid guests to use the property and facility. Near the shore of the beach adjacent to the Defendant’s property is “Elephant Rock” which is a natural rock formation. Ownership of the rock formation is with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The formation is located beyond the buoys at the end of the safety ropes that the Defendant erected. As such, unless you were to access the rocks by swimming up from a boat- the only access would be by being a member or guest at the Defendant’s organization. It became general knowledge, however, that guests would commonly make use of the rock formation by swimming to it and jumping off the rocks for leisure.
On July 6, 2009, Andrea Paige Carter Cohen, the Plaintiff, went to the club as a guest of a duly authorized member. While she enjoyed the beach, the sun, and the waves, she witnessed many individuals jumping from the rock. As a result, she ventured to the rock and did so as well. After running and taking a dive into the water below from the rocks, she claims that her foot smashed into a portion of the rock below the surface of the water which caused her to sustain a compound fracture of her leg.
The Plaintiff filed a suit alleging negligence based on premises liability and a duty to warn individuals such as the Plaintiff. More specifically, the complaint alleged that the Defendant breached it’s duty of care to maintain the rock as part of its preemies in a reasonably safe condition. The Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that the Plaintiff can provide no proof to support her claims and even to assume that she could, she would be barred by the Massachusetts recreational use statute.
The court, reciting the general law on point, claimed that when a plaintiff claims injury from a dangerous condition on a person’s land, liability depends on the defendant’s control of the instrumentality that causes harm. The court further articulated that control of adjacent property, even absent a legal right to do so, in certain situations may confer a duty of care. Additionally, “The Massachusetts Appeals Court has recognized that “in some situations a landowner’s duty to exercise reasonable care does not terminate abruptly at the borders of his property but may extend to include a duty to take safety measures related to known dangers on adjacent property.” Gage v. City of Westfield, 532 N.E.2d 62, 64 (Mass. App. Ct. 1988)
While the Court was only deciding whether to grant or deny the motion of the Defendant in going forward with the matter, the Court did hold that that the Club may be liable for a duty to warn where they have exercised some degree of control over access to the rock. Additionally, the court found that the Defendant organization cannot shield itself from liability under the recreational use statute. As such, the Court denied the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and the matter will continue to be litigated on it’s merits.
To read more on the case mentioned above, please see Andrea Paige Carter Cohen v. Elephant Rock Beach, Inc. which is currently filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. If you believe you have a claim based on premises liability our office can help. To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.