Commercial properties throughout the Commonwealth may have varying degrees of potential hazards.
Massachusetts law recognizes the duty of commercial property owners (and, in some cases, tenants) to address known or reasonably foreseeable dangers in order to limit the chances one of their patrons may suffer serious or fatal injuries.
At the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our Boston premises liability attorneys understand well the responsibilities property owners assume. For us, these cases are first and foremost about obtaining just compensation for our clients. But beyond that, we aim to hold negligent property owners accountable as a way of discouraging these kinds of perilous oversights from being made again in the future – either by this same landlord or by another similarly situated.
In Massachusetts, the property owner or person controlling the property is responsible for ensuring that it’s safe for lawful visitors.
Some of the dangerous conditions historically noted on commercial properties in Boston include:
- Uneven walkways
- Poor lighting
- Falling merchandise
- Defective playground equipment
- Slippery floors
- Icy walkways or parking lots
- Snow-covered walkways or parking lots
- Broken locks and gates
- Fire hazards (or non-working fire and smoke detectors)
- Lack of necessary security
- Building code violations
- Hazardous commercial displays
- Unprotected swimming pools
- Flooding from water leaks or spills
- Unmarked or broken stairs
- Deck or balcony defects
- Defective elevator
- Defective escalator
- Railing defects
- Animal attacks
- Power failures
These are just a few examples of common risks faced by customers and guests. They may lead to a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall. They could result in being struck by an object or getting caught in machinery. Some might even result in a third-party violent attack, such as a robbery or sexual assault.
In most premises liability cases, the property owner is the personal responsible for any injuries resulting from negligent maintenance, dangerous conditions or other hazards. However, the majority of commercial properties are leased to commercial tenants. In these cases, liability will depend on who had control over the property. In cases where both landlord and tenant controlled aspects of the property, both may potentially be found liable.Proving Liability
When a person is hurt on a business property, one must prove the basic standard of negligence, which is:
- Property owner owed a duty of care
- That duty of care was breached
- Injuries were proximately caused by that breach
- Those injuries were compensable
But there are some additional hurdles in premises liability cases that are not necessarily present in other types of claims.
For example, in establishing duty of care, one must prove first that he or she was lawfully on the property. In cases where someone is on site for purposes of commerce, he or she is considered an invitee. In those situations, the business owes the highest degree of care. However, if the person injured was trespassing on the site, the business owes only a minimal duty of care. Rather than ensuring the property is in a reasonably safe condition, owners owe trespassers only the duty not to commit gross negligence or inflict intentional harm.
Further, in proving the duty of care was breached, plaintiffs have to show the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the danger. That is:
- The owner created the dangerous condition
- The owner had actual knowledge of the condition
- The owner should have had knowledge of the condition because it was foreseeable
Property owners may seek to overcome assertions of negligence alleging no actual or constructive knowledge or that the danger was open and obvious, and therefore patrons had a duty to take reasonable steps to protect themselves from it.
Other defenses may be applicable, depending on the underlying circumstances, but these are some of the most common.Building Code Standards
The Massachusetts Building Code lays the foundation of minimum safety and construction standards by which commercial property owners must abide. These include things like:
- Safe means of egress
- Faire and smoke protective features
- Structural design and inspection
- Electrical safety systems
- Plumbing standards
- Elevator and conveying requirements
- Mechanical systems
- Special regulations
A violation of these standards is not in and of itself absolute proof of negligence. However, it may be used as evidence to prove negligence.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.
Call 617-367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL