In a recent Appeals Court case, the court looked at whether or not a business was responsible for taking care of the abutting sidewalk. For any personal injury lawsuit to move forward in Massachusetts, the injured person must show that the defendant owed him or her a duty under the law. Businesses must use reasonable care to keep their premises safe. In this premises liability lawsuit, the question centered on what the scope of responsibility was for the defendant businesses.
The injured person fell on black ice outside a commercial area and filed a negligence action against parties connected to the business abutting the sidewalk. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no duty upon them to reasonably maintain the sidewalk for the injured pedestrian. The defendants also argued that there was no proof that they created the unsafe conditions on the sidewalk. The trial court agreed, dismissing the action. The appellate court took up the injured pedestrian’s appeal, affirming the lower court’s ruling.
In its decision, the Appeals Court pointed to the local ordinance, which places a limited duty on landowners to remove snow and ice from adjacent sidewalks. The appellate court stated that the businesses owed a general duty to the municipality but not specifically to injured pedestrians. The court hinged its distinction on a prior 2010 ruling in Papadopoulos vs. Target, 457 Mass. 368 (2010). This case also involved a slip and fall on a patch of ice in front of a store. The injured pedestrian also filed suit against the store and the maintenance company. The main legal issue revolved around the “Massachusetts rule,” which distinguished between natural and unnaturally accumulated ice. The court chose to abolish that distinction, but it did emphasize the duty property owners have to take care of their property. That summary judgment for the defendants in Papadopoulos was vacated, but the Appeals Court in the present case distinguished that case by the fact that the injury occurred on the property, in the parking lot, as opposed to on a public sidewalk. The court in this case ruled that the defendants owed no duty of care to the injured pedestrian and that there was no reasonable chance to prove that the black ice was caused by the businesses. The dismissal stayed in place.