Duty of Care of Professional Non-Profit Organization?

by Anonymous

My boyfriend was involved in a serious accident last weekend. He is in the trauma unit with multiple pelvic bone fractures. He has been there for six days and is about to be released to rehabilitation. He cannot walk and is in terrible, terrible pain.

His injury occurred on private property during a public event. At the event, the coordinator had her 15 year old son and 16 year old son's friend driving a John Deer tractor with a trailer hitched. They were given the task of hauling supplies back and forth from the clubhouse to the lake area shelter house where the event was being held, a quarter of a mile away.

The event coordinator asked my boyfriend to go to the clubhouse to get beer and ice for a cooler that was at the clubhouse. He rode on the back of the trailer. On his return - the young boy (coordinators son's friend) was driving the tractor and was driving too fast down a slope back to the shelter house. He made a quick turn near the bottom of the slope which made the trailer tumble over and break up with my boyfriend and the contents of the cooler slamming to the ground.

My question is: Does the non-profit organization have a duty of care to guests on the property? Did they violate it by allowing someone of his age to drive guests around?

Members of the organization seem to think that my boyfriend should not have taken the ride to the clubhouse and therefore he is responsible. I feel that they breached their duty of care and would be proven negligent by knowing and allowing my boyfriend to be driven by this young boy.

Thank you so much in advance for your insight on who would be the negligent party.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Duty of Care of Professional Non-Profit Organization?":

Your question is an excellent one. Let’s analyze this one section at a time...

From the facts you present it appears either the 15 or 16 year old boy was actually driving the vehicle. You state “…the coordinator had her 15 year old son and 16 year old son's friend driving.” Because you mentioned the driver was a young boy we will presume he was not a licensed driver.

We will presume the place your boyfriend was sitting on the tractor was not a place intended by the manufacturer to be a seat.

Whether the entity sponsoring the event was a not-for-profit corporation or not does not relieve them of liability for negligence. It would be important to know who owned the tractor.

If the tractor was owned by the Not-For-Profit organization and an adult associated with the organization directed the unlicensed boy to drive the tractor the liability seems clearly on the shoulders of the organization.

There is also something called "Contributory Negligence.” We presume your boyfriend is an adult. As an adult he accepted some liability for placing himself in the care of an unlicensed minor. Additionally your boyfriend accepted liability for what might happen as a result of his sitting on an area of the tractor which was not intended by the manufacturer to be a seat.

Because the driver of the vehicle was a minor there is a good possibility his parents will be liable for the injuries he caused. Believe it or not many times homeowner’s policies cover incidents just like this.

The best suggestion we can offer would be to “spray” liability on as many parties as possible. Then they can fight among themselves as to who is more liable.

Your boyfriend may have solid claims against the following parties:

1) Against the owner of the property; especially if the owner condoned or had reason to believe tractor trailers were to be driven on her property; and

2) Against the Not-For Profit Organization for sponsoring the event and directing an unlicensed minor to drive a tractor trailer; and

3) Against the parents of the minor driver.

Of course those you pursue will claim your boyfriend was contributorily negligent; and he may be, but that alone does not defeat his claim. It is not up to them to determine how much,if any, contributory negligence there was.

We do believe your boyfriend has a strong case. Putting all the pieces together will take some hard work. You might want to consult with an experienced Personal Injury Attorney. Most do not charge for an initial consultation. At least you will know what additional options you and your boyfriend may have.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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Follow-up questions...
by: Law Guy

Thank you for offering us the additional information. You have posed three good questions and we will do our best to answer them.

Q. Is there a law requiring a person who drives a John Deer riding lawn mower to be licensed?

A. Different states have different requirements. Depending on the state in which you live there may be specific requirements. We can tell you in most states there is a requirement a driver be licensed to operate any motor vehicle which traverses public roads and highways. The John Deere riding lawn mower, if driven on the public thoroughfare would require its driver, regardless of age, to be a licensed driver.

Alternately, in most states there is not a requirement for a driver to be licensed if driving a motor vehicle on private property. In this case the minors would not have had to be licensed.

Q. Should you wait until your boyfriend is released from the hospital before notifying the organizations representative about their duty to pay your boyfriend?s medical bills, related expenses and possibly an additional amount for Pain and Suffering?

A. You should notify the organization?s representative at the earliest possible time. They should be put on notice your boyfriend intends to pursue a claim for the injuries he sustained.

Q. Is there a responsibility of the land owner to notify the insurance agent when an accident occurs?

There is no law or other public regulation requiring a landowner to notify their insurance company of an accident which occurred on their property.

With that said almost all insurance companies require an insured to notify them of an accident which occurs on the insured property. The insurance policies state the failure to notify them of an accident and potential claim may cause the insured to forfeit their rights to be covered under their policy.

A couple more questions...
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much for your response to my question so quickly.

The John Deer that was driven is a lawn mower. A small trailer was hitched to it. We have many events at this organization. The property is owned by this organization. The John Deer with trailer is used at every event to haul ice; beer and trash. It is typical to see passengers in the trailer to assist with whatever needs hauled.

The coordinator of the event in which my boyfriend was injured is also an Officer of the organization. She appointed her son and his friend to operate the John Deer for the entire day of this event.

So, when she asked my boyfriend to go to the clubhouse to retrieve these items, he climbed into the back of the trailer as he did not anticipate a potential accident. On the way back with the supplies gathered, he actually yelled at the boy that was driving to slow down immediately before the boy went down the hill and made the hard turn which toppled the trailer, my boyfriend, and the supplies.

Is there a law that requires someone have their license to drive a John Deer riding lawn mower?

And secondly, should we wait until he is out of the hospital to notify the agent that there has been an accident in order to gather all of his medical records and bills?

He is afraid that members of our organization will be mad at him for filing a claim. I personally don't care if they are mad or not. He is suffering incredible pain and cannot work. No one has notified the insurance company that there was an incident. Isn't there a responsibility of the land owner to notify the insurance agent when an accident occurs?

Again, thank you so much for all of your valuable information on this site. It has been very helpful and I am hoping that my boyfriend agrees that we definitely need the assistance of an attorney with this case!

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