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Massachusetts Court Rules Property Owners Have No Duty to Maintain Public Sidewalks

Under Massachusetts law, when a person dies in an accident, the person’s estate will often seek damages from the parties that may have caused the events leading up to the person’s death. Simply because an accident occurred does not necessarily mean that a party will be deemed liable, however. This was shown in a recent case in which the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s wrongful death claims due to his failure to establish that the defendant owed any duty to the deceased person. If you lost a loved one in an accident caused by another party’s reckless acts, it is prudent to speak to a trusted Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss what you must prove to recover damages.

Factual History

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent was hit by a car when he was walking in the street, and subsequently died from his injuries. The facts demonstrated that he entered the street because the sidewalk that was adjacent to the roadway was impassable due to an accumulation of snow and ice. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against multiple defendants, including the owners of the property that was next to the subject sidewalk. The defendant property owners filed a motion to dismiss, arguing they did not have a duty to maintain a publicly owned sidewalk. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Duty to Maintain Sidewalks in Massachusetts

Upon reviewing the facts of the case, the appellate court noted that it was undisputed that the sidewalk was owned by the city in which it was located and not by the defendant property owners, and that it was a public walkway. Nonetheless, the plaintiff argued the defendant had a duty to refrain from causing dangerous conditions on the sidewalk and that it breached the duty by allowing the accumulation of snow to exist on the sidewalk. The appellate court found that this was insufficient to form the basis of a claim against the defendant.

Specifically, the court stated that whether the complaint adequately alleged negligence turned on whether the defendant had a duty to maintain the sidewalk. The court explained, though, that under Massachusetts law, private property owners have no duty to maintain a publicly owned sidewalk. Further, the court noted that Massachusetts courts had specifically applied that principle to cases involving liability for snow and ice on a sidewalk, finding there was no liability. As the plaintiff’s complaint did not allege that the defendant created the condition and merely alleged it was responsible for failing to maintain the sidewalk, the trial court’s ruling was affirmed.

Speak to a Knowledgeable Massachusetts Attorney

If you suffered the loss of a loved one because of another party’s negligence, it is advisable to speak to an attorney regarding what claims you possibly may be able to pursue. The knowledgeable Massachusetts personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are skilled at helping people recover compensation for their harm, and if you engage our services, we will work tirelessly to help you seek a favorable result. We can be reached at 508-822-6600 or through our online form to set up a conference.