private road

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A private road is a road or driveway on private property, limited to the use of the owner or a group of owners who share the use and maintain the road without help in maintaining the road from the town, city, county, or state. In an Opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Court Justices to the Massachusetts Senate, the justices, in summarizing the common law of private ways, defined private roads as “ways for travel, not laid out by public authority or dedicated to public use, that are wholly the subject of private ownership, either by reason of the ownership of the land upon which they are laid out by the owner thereof.” They also noted that such roads “may be terminated at any time at the will of the owner.” The Massachusetts Appeal Court, in 1979 in W.D. Cowls v. August Woickekoski, summarized private roads a bit more simply, stating that “[i]f a road has never been dedicated and accepted, laid out by public authority, or established by prescription, such a road is private.” In that case, plaintiff relied on old deeds and an 1830 map to try to show that the road was public. However, the court held that such recognition of the road was not enough to show that the road “came under the ‘public,’ rather than the ‘private,’ designation of that resolve,” and in any case, none of the deeds after 1869 make reference to the road in question.

[Last updated in December of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]