"Every unfortunate event does not give rise to lawsuit." ~Judge Mills Lane
Hunting is a time-honored tradition in New Hampshire. Interwoven into that tradition is a significant part of New Hampshire's economy, relationships with landowners and other hunters. Unfortunately, hunting has now comes under attack from within...in this case, by a hunter.
On April 8, 2011 William Jasmin of Manchester filed a lawsuit in the Hillsborough Superior Court alleging that Charles A Corliss of Epsom, (the land owner) was negligent in that Corliss allegedly gave his consent to Jasmin to use a tree stand situated on the property, but then failed to warn Jasmin that the tree stand was defective. Jasmin subsequently fell and serious injuries followed. Jasmin now sues Corliss, the landowner to recover for his injuries.
New Hampshire RSA 212:34 limits the liability of a person entering onto another's land and states the owner owes no duty (author's emphasis) of care to keep such premises safe for entry or use by others for hunting...[o]r to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on such premises to persons entering for such purposes, except as provided in paragraph III hereof..."(click the link above and read the full text of the law).
Since 1961, the legislative intent has been to shield landowners from liability when they open their land and make it available for public for use. Now, as with other things in life, lawyers tread upon our ground, seeking to pierce the shield of protection for the pursuit of the almight buck and the advocacy of those amongst us who make poor choices.
In addition to RSA 212:34, RSA 508:14 asserts, "[w]ho without charge permits any person to use land for recreational purposes or as a spectator of recreational activity, shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage in the absence of intentionally caused injury or damage..." It is clear that the legislature was duplicitous and intended to protect landowners from liability when people engaged in inherently risky activities.
But I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the "slip and fall-smith" hired by Mr Jasmin didn't include some allegation that Mr Jasmin was charged....a "fee." The pleadings assert that "specific consideration" was asked for by Mr. Corliss in that he asked Jasmin to, "shoot as many Coyotes as he could.." Consideration? Seriously? I'll be watching to see how the court wrangles with that, should this somehow make it past Summary Judgment.
Perhaps Attorney Branch thinks this case will have a shot...but I do wonder if Attorney Branch has read, Moody, et al v. Continental Paving, Inc., decided in 2002. In that case (1997) Albert Gordon had just purchased a new Jeep Wrangler. Ray Baker jumps into Gordon's new Jeep Wrangler and goes to a party at their employer's home...which was adjacent to a Sand and Gravel operation owned by Continental Paving. While at the party Gordon and Baker (after dark, mind you) decided to put the new Jeep through it's paces and commence to tearing around the Gravel pit owned by continental. Thereafter, the Jeep plunged off of a fifteen foot wall and crashed into a concrete slab below, killing Baker. Baker's estate sued Continental, alleging that Continental was negligent because it failed to, "warn, inspect, modify, illuminate, supervise or otherwise prevent access to the area of this wall and drop off onto a concrete slab on its property."
The Rockingham County Superior Court dismissed the claim against Continental, finding that, "the claims were statutorily barred under RSA 215-A:34, II, which limits liability for landowners who allow off-highway recreational vehicles (OHRVs) on their property to risks not inherent in the sport, and RSA 508:14, I, which provides that landowners who admit others onto their property for recreational purposes free of charge are only liable for intentionally caused personal injury..." On appeal by Moody (as co-administratrix of the estate of Raymond Baker) the Supreme Court affirmed to lower court's finding, thus, Continental was not liable.
In New Hampshire one must take a Hunter Education Course to obtain a hunting license. Without a certificate, no license may be obtained. In Hunter Ed courses, tree stand safety is covered in very specific and demonstrative detail. I should know...I have been a Hunter Ed Instructor for the past 8 years, teaching four to six course a year. Moreover, there exists a redundancy for tree stand safety when the Conservation officer speaks to participants in each course.
A significant component of those classes is tree stand safety. Great emphasis, detail and attention is given to proper use of fall restraint devices. Modern fall restraints now utilize a "prussic" knot system, enabling a hunter to remain attached to the tree while in a self-climbing tree stand. But, Such is not the case for a strap-on stand where a single tier climbing ladder is used. Where such devices are used, one is ALWAYS cautioned to hook up before entering such stands. And as with any ladder, three points are contact are HIGHLY recommended. It appears that Jasmin did not heed this advice and for that, Mr. Corliss is being compelled to pay. As somebody who has actually fallen from a tree stand, I can tell you, even with a fall restraint, it ain't fun...But, I was only slightly injured...and NEVER ONCE did it ever occur to me that it might be somebody elses' fault. Perhaps the maker of the tree stand?
We can bandy about all day long about this but here are the cold bare facts. Jasmin got seriously hurt...that is truly regrettable. But for all the legal finger-pointing and blaming he is doing to Charles Corliss, he has nobody to blame but himself. It is always a bad idea to use the tree stand of another, let alone not having sense enough to secure ones' self prior to placing all ones weight on the stand.
This is the litigation lottery...nothing more. Despite the laws limiting liability, Jasmin probably lawyer-shopped, finding Mr. Branch to shake down the owner of the property. And more than likely, William Jasmin could care not one lick. He could care less that more property owners will now post their land and preclude hunting for countless others....preclude hikers, bird-watchers...mountain bikers.
I abide in the hope that Jasmin's lawsuit will be dismissed, but in the event he wins, I hope he enjoys the money with all his pain...Because the rest of us will be paying for it. When I think of a word, "Scumbag" comes to mind.