Last week, there was a bizarre and tragic accident killing Amy Stiner, 37, and Melissa Moyer, 38. The two women were hiking in Maine when they became lost. They were rescued only to get into their car and drive of a boat ramp and drown. Adding to the tragedy, Stiner was four months pregnant. Moyer left behind a 12 year old son.
This type of accident is all too common in rural areas where roads often lead directly to piers or boat ramps. In the dark, it is very difficult to judge water ahead instead of a road. This town of only 300 clearly did not have barriers to prevent this type of accident. The problem is that locals often need to tow boats to the water’s edge and smaller towns have limited funds to add lights and other devices.
What is particularly difficult in these cases in torts is that on their face there is often negligence in failing to mark such dangers sufficiently in the dark. However, locals generally know of the danger and with only 300 people accidents are likely low. It remains strangers that are most at risk in such accidents.
The result is that there can be tort liability against the town or county. Yet, local juries tend to treat such dangers as common to rural areas. Maine particularly is known for such localized notions of fault. In one infamous case, a jury ruled in favor of a hunter who shot a woman in her garden in Bangor, Maine. She was viewed as reckless for going out during deer season wearing white mittens and a dark coat, here.
These pier cases are less controversial. They present a common conflict over foreseeable risks in rural areas. These piers are part of the terrain and lifestyle of Maine residents. Indeed, people come to that beautiful state for these small towns and waterways. Yet, the high number of tourists also means that many will not be experienced with such dangers. You can see with the picture below how short the road is before you fall into the ocean. It is an overt danger . . . unless it is foggy.
In this case, Stiner was from Maine. However, the conditions were foggy that night. The women were able to call police to say that their car was filling with water, but they were found drowned with their dog by rescuers.