In New England, old man winter is here for about five months, and depending on what the groundhog sees, more winter may be yet to come! Snow and ice is everywhere and Massachusetts residents should be prepared to battle these icy conditions. A slip on ice or frozen snow can cause serious injuries. Massachusetts tort law allows injured persons to sue property owners for failing to remove dangerous conditions from their property.
Just a few years ago, Massachusetts abolished its long-standing precedent in premises liability lawsuits. Previous case law dictated that there was a difference between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice. A natural accumulation is snow fall or ice in its natural state, untouched and untreated. An unnatural accumulation is snow or ice that has been treated or moved via shovel, plow, salt, sand, etc. in which it is no longer in its natural state.
Based on the old case law, if you slipped and fell on a natural accumulation of snow and ice, there would be no negligence claim against the property owner because “a property owner does not violate the duty of reasonable care by failing to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice.” (See Sullivan v. Brookline, 416 Mass. 825, 827 (1994)).
For all other non-snow-related negligence, a property owner has been held liable under the reasonable care standard. The reasonable care standard is “that degree of care which a person of ordinarily prudence would exercise in the same or similar circumstances.” Black’s Law Dictionary, Abridged 6th Edition
On July 26, 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) abolished the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice. (See Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, 457 Mass. 368 (2010)). As a result, a property owner is now held liable under the reasonable care standard for negligence pertaining to snow and ice, as well as all other types of dangerous conditions.
As you can tell from the video above, falling on ice will surely leave you bruised, sore, and in pain. Here are a few tips that may help you avoid a slip and fall on snow and ice:
- Wear appropriate winter footwear. Boots may not be the fashion statement you want but may give you the traction you need.
- Walk slowly and be sure of your footing. Ice takes many forms: black ice, clear ice, ice formed under snow.
- Use caution when ascending or descending stairs.
- Keep your hands free. Allowing your hands to be free and out of your pockets may help you avoid a slip and fall by catching yourself or lessening the severity of the impact of your fall.
- Use handrails whenever possible.
Karsner & Meehan, P.C. is a well-established law firm, handling slip and fall injuries for over 30 years. If you or anyone you know has been injured due to a slip and fall in Bristol County, Plymouth County, or elsewhere in Massachusetts, you should contact the experienced attorneys at Karsner & Meehan, P.C. to schedule your free consultation.