Snow and Ice – Massachusetts Law

Winter in Massachusetts can be idyllic. It can also be dangerous.

One of the biggest hazards posed to Bostonians is the massive amount of snow and ice dumped on the Commonwealth every year from late October through mid-March. While this is a natural condition, property owners owe a duty of care to ensure parking lots, sidewalks, walkways, stairs and entrances are cleared of treacherous snow and ice build-up.

Places of business in particular owe a substantial responsibility to make sure if their doors are open to the public, their properties are safe for patrons. At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our premises liability attorneys have worked on behalf of numerous clients injured as a result of property owner negligence.

The standard changed in 2010 with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. Altering more than a century of established case law, the court ruled in Papadopoulos that property owners could be held liable for injuries resulting from both natural and unnatural accumulations of ice and snow.

Injuries sustained due to slip-and-falls and snow and ice can be relatively minor, but they can also be devastating. They can include:

  • Lacerations, Cuts And Abrasions
  • Soft Tissue Injury
  • Fractured Bones
  • Skull Fractures
  • Concussion
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

Compensation to which injured plaintiffs might be due includes:

  • Medical Expenses
  • Lost Wages
  • Pain and Suffering

However, collecting damages is not as simple as proving a fall. One must show the property owner was aware – or should have been aware – of the dangerous condition and failed to take action.

Accumulation of snow and ice in wintertime is generally seen as a foreseeable hazard. Previously, it was presumed to be an open and obvious hazard, meaning pedestrians had a duty to recognize and protect themselves from harm. But now, property owners can be liable for injuries stemming from snow and ice build-up. What’s more, the term “property” can include sections of public sidewalk in front of one’s home or business.

A Shift in Liability

Prior to the Papadopoulos decision, courts in the Commonwealth had determined property owners as a general rule were not liable for injuries resulting from natural accumulations of ice and snow.

They could be liable for unnatural accumulations, but that was a difficult standard to reach, and it was too often applied inconsistently and arbitrarily.

  • An example: Water drips from a building onto a nearby sidewalk, resulting in a patch of ice where the rest of the sidewalk is clear. This would be an “unnatural” accumulation of ice.
  • Another example: A property owner clears their own driveway and in the process, tosses snow onto a nearby sidewalk that was previously plowed and thus clear of snow and ice. Here again, this would be an “unnatural” accumulation.

But these were tough to prove, and at times, confusing. One example is the 1994 case of Sullivan v. Town of Brookline, where a man slipped and fell on ice and was seriously injured. It was later established a worker for the town had shoveled the snow and in so doing, uncovered the patch of ice where plaintiff fell. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court still held this was still a “natural” accumulation of ice.

Changes came with Papadopoulos ruling. In that case, plaintiff was in the parking lot of a large department store when he slipped and fell on a patch of ice. Although the parking lot had been plowed, there was still a heap of snow piled up on the median strip.

Trial court held it was a natural accumulation, whether the ice chunk had fallen from the median or whether it was a patch of refrozen runoff from the snow pile. Summary judgment was granted to the store and its snow removal contractor.

In its review, the Supreme Judicial Court changed its stance, finding natural accumulation of snow and/or ice is in fact a defect that property owners have a duty to repair. The court ruled from there on (and even retroactively to pending lawsuits) property owners owe the same obligation to protect lawful visitors form ice and snow as any other hazard.

Boston Snow Removal Policy

In addition to this change in case law, many cities and towns have their own ordinances pertaining to snow and ice removal.

Boston Code of Ordinances 16-12-16 requires that property owners:

  • Remove snow, slush and ice from sidewalks and curb ramps abutting the property within three hours of the snowfall ending (or three hours from sunrise if the snow falls overnight);
  • Remove snow, slush and ice so that there is a minimum path on the sidewalk of 42 inches wide (it has to be safe for wheelchairs, etc.)
  • Ice should be removed to the bar pavement and treated with sand, sawdust or some other similar material
  • Snow blocking handicapped ramps, fire hydrants or catch basis should be cleared
  • Remove snow and ice from fire escapes and stairways, as all common means of egress have to be cleared

If you have been injured as a result of slipping and falling on snow or ice, call our offices to have your case reviewed by an experienced Boston injury attorney.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

Call 617-367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL

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