Maine Court Rejects Expansion of Snow Plow Subcontractors’ Liability

August 17, 2007

Businesses hired to remove snow from town roads do not owe a general duty of care to people who ride on them, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.

In denying the appeal of a man whose wife was killed in a collision more than three years ago on a slippery road in Glenburn, the justices refused to expand the common law duty of plowing contractors and broaden their potential liability.

“Our common law reflects the widely held public acceptance of heavy snowfall and difficult driving as facts of life in Maine,” Chief Justice Leigh Saufley wrote in a 19-page opinion in which she noted that Maine normally gets about 85 inches of snow a year.

The appeal was brought by Steven Alexander, who argued that a Superior Court erred in determining that plowing contractor Philip Mitchell did not owe a duty of care to Michelle Alexander, who died in the Dec. 16, 2003, collision with a van on Pushaw Road.

Steven Alexander, who also sued the owner of the van and its driver, claimed that Mitchell negligently failed to clear and maintain the road, which was covered with snow and slush at the time of the crash.

The law court upheld the lower court ruling that Mitchell owed no legal duty to Michelle Alexander and that he was not liable because the slippery road was created by severe weather conditions and not by his failure to plow.

Mitchell’s contractual obligation, the court noted, was to the town, which is immune from liability through legislative action.

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