Court Explains Massachusetts Exception to Duty to Maintain a Safe Property

In Massachusetts, business owners generally have an obligation to make their premises safe for visitors and can be held liable for any injuries caused by a dangerous condition on the property. There are some exceptions to the general rule, however, that permit business owners to avoid liability even if a person is injured in an accident caused by an unsafe condition on the business’s property. The United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit recently discussed one of these exceptions, in a case in which it found the business owner was not liable for a contractor’s harm, where the harm was caused by the condition the contractor was hired to remedy. If you were injured in an accident while you were visiting a business, it is prudent to meet with a trusted Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss whether you may be able to recover damages for your harm from the business owner.

Factual Scenario

It is alleged that the plaintiff worked for a cleaning company that was hired by the defendant car dealership to clean the dealership. The contract between the defendant and the cleaning company specified that the cleaning company was required to scrub all the service floors six times a week with a degreasing product. On the day of the alleged incident, the plaintiff was working at the defendant dealership. At one point, he walked around a pallet when he lost his balance and fell.

Reportedly, after the plaintiff fell, he observed an accumulation of oil on the floor by the pallet. After the fall, he continued to clean the dealership floors, including the area where he fell. It was ultimately revealed that the plaintiff suffered a significant knee injury in the fall. He subsequently filed a lawsuit against the defendant, asserting claims of negligence and failure to warn. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the condition was open and obvious. The court granted the defendant’s motion, noting that there is no duty to protect a plaintiff from a danger that the plaintiff was hired to cure. The plaintiff appealed.

Duties Owed to Independent Contractors

In Massachusetts, the duty a property owner owes to employees of independent contractors is the same as the duty owed to any visitor who lawfully enters the premises. Specifically, the property owner must take any reasonable steps to prevent injuries. The Massachusetts courts carved out an exception to the duty, however, for harm caused by risks that the employee is fully aware of and are intrinsic in the job. The exception is an extension of the rule that a property owner does not have a duty to protect visitors from obvious and open conditions.

In other words, if a person’s job is to remove a hazard, he or she is generally aware of the risk of harm posed by the hazard. In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiff’s accident was caused by the very hazard he had been hired to remediate and fell squarely within the exception to the duty to maintain a safe premises. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Discuss Your Case with a Knowledgeable Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

Slip and fall accidents are frequently caused by the negligent failure of a property owner to remedy a dangerous condition. If you were injured in a slip and fall accident at a business, it is critical to discuss your case with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to assess whether you may be able to pursue compensation from the business owner. The experienced personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan will work tirelessly to help you seek a successful result under the facts of your case. We can be reached at 508-822-6600 or through the online form to schedule a meeting.