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MacVane v. S.D. Warren Company, Limited Liability Company

United States District Court for the District of Maine
641 F. Supp. 2d 54 (2009)


Facts

Children in Standish, Maine swam in the Presumpscot River near the Eel Weir Dam. The dam and its operational buildings were surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, and access to the main building’s roof was limited by an additional padlocked chain-link fence. One of the dam’s buildings was a tower. Three 11,000 volt electrical wires were attached to the tower just above a metal catwalk. Signs on the dam’s premises warned against trespassing and of high voltage, and security guards patrolled the dam. S.D. Warren Co. (defendant) owned the Eel Weir Dam and another nearby dam. S.D. Warren hired a risk-consulting company to assess the security of the two dams. The resulting report identified trespassing as an ongoing safety issue at the dams and noted the dangers posed by high-voltage wires to trespassers. On August 18, 2006, 13-year-old Mackenzie MacVane went swimming near the Eel Weir Dam with friends. MacVane climbed through a hole in the Eel Weir dam’s perimeter fence. MacVane then continued to the top of the main building and scaled the chain-link fence to access the building’s roof. MacVane moved from the roof of the main building to the roof of the adjoining tower, then jumped down to the catwalk attached to the tower’s side. As MacVane prepared to jump into the river below, he backed into one of the high-voltage wires running to the tower. The shock from the wire threw MacVane from the catwalk, and he was killed. Maine’s recreational-use statute, 14 M.R.S.A. § 159-A(2), provides that property owners do not owe a duty of care to people making recreational use of the owners’ property, regardless of whether those people are invited guests or trespassers. Specifically, owners have no duty to maintain the safety of their premises or warn of hazardous conditions. MacVane’s parents (plaintiffs), sued S.D. Warren, alleging that the recreational-use statute was inapplicable, because the Eel Weir Dam posed an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily injury to children or, in the alternative, that ownership of such an inadequately protected property constituted willful conduct. S.D. Warren moved for summary judgment.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Hornby, J.)

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  • A "yes" or "no" answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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