Fall Accidents

The Duty of Care Owed In Massachusetts Fall Injury Premises Liability Cases

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) handles premises liability cases differently than most other states. In the old common law doctrine that is still used in much of the country, there was a distinction in the duty of care owed to you by a landlord or property owner, depending on your reason for being on the property.

If you were there as business invitee, such as the customer of a store, there was one duty of care. If you were a social guest or “licensee” there was another type of duty of care. In Massachusetts, the SJC (our state supreme court) made significant reformations in the law between 1973 and 1980, most notably in the case of Young v. Garawcki, 380 Mass. 162 (1980).

In Grawacki, the SJC did away with what it considered obsolete common law distinctions and held that a general duty of care was preferred, whereby a property owner must act in a reasonable and prudent manner to prevent foreseeable injuries to foreseeable plaintiffs. The only exception to this general duty of care was to adult trespassers. With respect to everyone else on the property, so long as they weren’t trespassing, it did not matter the reason for being on the property. The plaintiff could be a social guest in someone’s home or customer of a convenience store.

Common Fall Injuries

At the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, LLC, our property injury attorneys see a variety of fall injuries, but typical causes are unprotected fall hazards or improperly maintained fall protection, such as a loose railing or one that cannot support sufficient weight.

A typical example would be the roof of building that the landlord knew or should have known would be used by people for social gatherings. In Boston, there are a lot of old buildings with flat roofs. The classic Boston “triple decker” is a good example. Many triple-deckers have been converted from single-family residences to multi-apartment dwellings. They are often rented to college or graduate students or young professionals, and roof access is listed a feature.

Most people who have rented an apartment in Boston have had a property broker tell them that this building features a “roof deck” that would be great for parties or sunbathing. When the broker takes you up to see the roof, it is not really a deck, but rather a flat roof with a concrete floor suitable for standing on. Many of these roof decks do not feature any railings, and if they do, it is nothing more than a concrete wall less than three feet high. A landlord should know this is extremely dangerous, especially when there is a high likelihood that people will be drinking alcohol when enjoying the rooftop.

If someone falls off a triple-decker, they could easily be killed, or suffer serious personal injury from the fall, including broken bones, paralysis, and traumatic brain injury. Landlords will typically try to defend these cases by saying they did not know anyone would be on the roof, or that the victim was drunk, and it was his or her fault.

As your Boston fall injury attorney can explain, the property broker is acting as an agent of the landlord, and the landlord should not be able to deny liability when his or her agent listed the roof deck as a feature of an apartment.

Another common fall injury involves an unsecured or ineffective street-level gate or grate covering an access point in the sidewalk. Many businesses have a basement storage area that is accessible from street level. When a delivery is being made, the metal doors are opened so that goods and other supplies can be placed in the storage room. If these gates are not working properly, and a victim falls in and is injured, the business may be liable for any personal injury.

This also applies to the metal grates used by the city or MBTA to cover airshafts and mechanical service areas kept below street level and manholes that are not properly covered.

To learn more about how a Boston premises liability lawyer can help you after an accident on someone's property, contact The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, LLC today at (617) 367-2900 or using our online form.

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