PA Landowner Avoids Liability for Snowmobile Crash, Snowmobile Club Not So Lucky
In Conway v. N.E.P. Sno Trails, Inc., the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna determined that a landowner could not be held liable for a snowmobiler’s injuries that occurred on its property. The court did, however, find that the snowmobile club the snowmobiler was a member of could be held liable.
Plaintiff, Brent Conway, filed a negligence action against a snowmobile club and landowner after he suffered numerous injuries, including shoulder and hip dislocations, in a snowmobile incident. He was a member of the snowmobile club and paid dues to use the snowmobile club’s trails. The landowner owned the land where the incident occurred. In response to Mr. Conway’s claims, both defendants filed motions for summary judgment. The defendants argued they were immune from liability based on an exception to the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act (“RULWA”). The exception “provides that the owner or occupant of land made available to the public for recreational use is immune from negligence liability to a recreational user for harm caused by a dangerous condition, unless the owner or occupant charges the recreational user to enter or use the land.” Both defendants claimed immunity on the basis they did not charge Mr. Conway to use the land. The snowmobile club also argued that Conway assumed the risk of his injuries, but the court found a dispute of material fact on this issue.
The court granted the landowner’s motion for summary judgment, but did not grant the snowmobile club’s motion. The court found no evidence in the record that the landowner charged a fee to use its land. Further, there was no evidence in the record to show the landowner maliciously or wantonly created the six-foot-gully that caused the incident. In contrast, the record showed that Mr. Conway paid an annual fee to the club for a trail map and registration sticker to use the trail where the incident occurred. Thus, the court narrowly construed the RULWA exception and found that even where the payment was not directly for use of the land, the snowmobile club could not be immune from liability. The court determined that—although attenuated—the snowmobile club essentially received payment for Mr. Conway to use land that it occupied (the snowmobile club maintained the trail where the incident occurred). As such, the court found that the snowmobile club was not immune from liability.
Thanks to John Lang for his contribution to this post. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.