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Under Massachusetts law: a trespasser is generally protected only against willful, wanton, or reckless conduct by the owner save that an owner, if aware of a trespasser who is in a position of peril, must take reasonable steps to avert injury to the trespasser.
Plaintiff Mark Menard lived near a rail freight yard owned and operated by defendant CSX Transportation Inc., and he regularly walked across the rail yard on his way to and from his home, as did others who lived in the area. This included crossing active railroad tracks. Heading home, the plaintiff entered the rail yard; he says that at least three employees of the defendant saw him enter, he made eye contact with some and none told him to leave. Plaintiff continued to walk across the rail yard until the accident happened that permanently injured him. Three years after the accident, the plaintiff and his mother, Carol Menard, filed a complaint against the defendant. Defendant answered and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court dismissed their suit and denied their motion to amend the complaint. The district court ruled that his complaint against the defendant corporation failed to assert sufficient facts to overcome his status as a trespasser and thereby state a claim under state law. Plaintiffs appealed an order of the district court
Was the plaintiff’s complaint failed to state a claim under state law?
Yes. The judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings.
The court held that the statement said that upon information and belief, employees of the defendant knew the son was injured by the rail switch and had sufficient time to take action to prevent further injury to him was clearly aimed to invoke the exception to the trespasser rule for those perceived to be in peril. But the court noticed that nothing in the complaint provided any facts to support the general statement either that plaintiff was seen by the workers after he was hit or, if seen, could have been rescued by reasonable care. The court then ruled that a limited remand was appropriate to allow the plaintiff to explain what basis he had to believe that narrow discovery was warranted as to the brief interval between the switch incident and the plaintiff’s fall under the wheels of the train. If anything beyond speculation supported the information and belief allegation, that too could be disclosed. After that, the matter was confined to the discretion of the district judge.