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Snowmobile Clubs Continue Work Despite Court Ruling
By Claire Lynch

It is generally accepted that snowmobiling is a ride-at-your-own risk sport, and landowners who open their land to trails are assured that they are protected by New Hampshire law from liability. But those who volunteer for trail maintenance, and the club directors who guide them, are questioning their vulnerability in light of a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court decision. The higher court has sent a lawsuit back to superior court, while local legislators rush to help protect club volunteers from similar suits in the future.
In Jefferson, where Brody Kenison, age 15, was killed while riding on Corridor 5, groomer operator Andre Dubois and the Waumbek Methna Snowmobile Club will still have to face further litigation and have their liability questioned. The Kenison family is seeking damages against Mr. Dubois and the club as a whole, for allegedly leaving a groomer in a blind spot on the trail and causing the collision that resulted in the young man¹s death five years ago.
Mirroring a law already enacted in Maine, Representa-tive Eric Stohl is submitting a request to fellow legislators that will end the question of liability and define snowmobile clubs and their workers as being an occupant of the land. Under the Maine Law of 2003, Title 14 Chapter 7 §159-C, "Occupant" includes, but is not limited to, an individual, corporation, partnership, association or other legal entity that constructs or maintains trails or other improvements for public recreational use.
For this year at least, it's business as usual for the snowmobile clubs, said Colebrook Ski-Bees President Phil Monson. "That's our stand at this point," he said. "We're concerned about it, but out groomer operators are paid employees. Our liability insurance covers them."
However, the club is seeking its attorney's help to answer other questions. "How protected are we?" Mr. Monson asked. "And until the legislators give us the protection we need, not only as employees but as individual directors and volunteers, are we going to be protected, and to what extent?" Looking at the upcoming season, it will be no different for 2005-06, he said. The wheels of justice could continue to grind from court to court and may drag out a final decision on the Kenison case many months from now.
Senator John Gallus supports Rep. Stohl¹s bill, and said legislators have until September 23 to submit a final draft on bills to be reviewed in 2006. Once this is done the state's attorneys will contact Attorney General and Fish and Game officials, said Gail Hanson, Director of the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association, and a letter addressed to the state's snowmobile clubs will be sent out at the end of September.
There has been much talk and press about liability, not only in the Kenison case but in others, where lawyers are seeking a loophole in the state's recreational use laws. In this recent decision to refer the Kenison Case back to the superior court, Supreme Court justices also requested that the state legislature take a harder look at the state's recreational use laws and its provisions and definitions. Other words that might come under question in the New Hampshire RSAs are "invitee" and "volunteer."
This is a broader spectrum said Paul Bergeron of the Pittsburg Ridge Runners, and will have to include such nationwide organizations as the Boy Scouts. Mr. Bergeron met with the N.H. Snowmobile Associations County Directors in Groveton last Wednesday, and said it will be at least another month before anyone will know whether this case has an affect on the state¹s snowmobiling industry.
One thing made clear by all area club leaders, and Representatives Stohl and Fred King, is that landowners are still not liable and continue to be indemnified under New Hampshire law. Paul Gray of the Bureau of Trails said he was taken aback by the Supreme Court decision on the Kenison case, but regardless, the Supreme Court upheld the law and lack of liability concerning the landowner. "If it were the owner or lessee of the property, they wouldn't have a case," he said. "So the legislature is going to make it clear by defining 'occupant' as any group that maintains public trails."
It all came down to a motion for summary judgment, he said, and while the superior court said the Jefferson snowmobile club is immune and considered the occupant, the decision was appealed to the Supreme Court and overturned. "They're not so sure that the legislature meant the club had occupancy, but once they've got permission to build and maintain trails, they occupy the land. The club is responsible for opening and closing those trails and they act as a quasi-landowner. The Supreme Court didn¹t hear that because there has been no trial yet."
(Issue of September 21, 2005)
http://www.colbsent.com/articles.htm
 

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Great job keeping snowmobiling community updated! Keep up the great work reporting news that you come across.
Thank you, Freedom Rider
 
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