Articles Posted in Snow and Ice Accidents

Snow shoveling

Property owners, grab your shovels, some salt and a little patience. The snow is back in Boston and this is just the beginning.

Snow Removal Was Not Required in Massachusetts
We shouldn’t say the beginning. Snow and ice is the oldest story in New England. But for many years, Massachusetts law distinguished between “natural” and “unnatural” snow accumulation and held that property owners were not liable for injuries caused by a natural accumulation of snow and ice. But the Supreme Judicial Court abolished this distinction in Papadopoulos v. Target, 457 Mass. 368 (July 26, 2010).

In Papadopoulos, the plaintiff slipped on ice in the parking lot outside a Target department store in Danvers. After leaving the store, the plaintiff fell on a patch of ice on the pavement. The patch formed after a snowplow had worked in the area, followed by a snowstorm. He filed suit against Target Corporation and Weiss Landscaping Company, Inc., which was responsible for the snow and ice removal.

The trial court ruled the patch was a “natural accumulation” of snow. The Appeals Court affirmed this decision, but the Supreme Judicial Court rejected the distinction between natural and unnatural snow accumulation. With this decision, property owners had to accept the same duty of care in snow and ice cases as in other cases. They must keep their property reasonably safe.

Massachusetts Property Owners Now Have a Duty of Reasonable Care in Snow Removal
This was a good decision for consumers, because now, those who fall on someone’s property can now seek compensation for their injuries and recovery if the property was not properly maintained. Homeowners, landlords, businesses and commercial property owners now have a duty of reasonable care to clear the snow and ice.

Since Papadopoulos, the courts have recognized this responsibility with an occasional exception for commercial property owners. In some cases, the courts have found store owners or tenants which operate in a leased space are responsible for the maintenance, and not the property owner. This distinction turns on the fact the tenant has control of the property. Lease provisions also usually require the tenant to indemnify the landowner.

If You Are Injured on Snow and Ice
If you slip and are injured on snow and ice, you have rights, but you need to act promptly. First, you should always receive medical treatment for your injuries. Then, notify the owner or person in control of the property that you were injured on their property. This must be done within thirty days! (M.G.L. c. 84, § 21).

Before you notify a property owner, consult a Boston snow and ice accident lawyer. At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our attorneys have extensive experience in this area. We are here to answer your questions and advise you of your legal rights. You may be entitled to payment of medical bills, lost wages and other damages.

A Recent Case Handled by Breakstone, White & Gluck
When our client fell on an icy ramp in Walpole, she turned to Attorney Marc L. Breakstone for help. He investigated and negotiated an $825,000 settlement.

Attorney Breakstone’s investigation found the handicap ramp, which was on a commercial property, had not been maintained. The area where our client fell was covered in ice and there was no hand railing. This was a violation of state and local codes. Read more about this case.

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Boston personal injury attorney Marc L. Breakstone

Attorney Marc L. Breakstone recently negotiated a settlement for a woman who was seriously injured when she slipped on an icy ramp. The ramp was on a commercial property.

Read about Attorney Breakstone’s work.

 

dw-200-webMany of us would rather skip the shovels, snowblowers and ice scrapers this winter. But when the snow falls, remember that Massachusetts property owners have a responsibility to keep their property reasonably safe. So your shovel must come out.

For over 100 years, Massachusetts property owners enjoyed a special exemption from liability for “natural accumulations” of snow and ice. An injured person previously had to demonstrate that the accumulation was unnatural, such as the frozen discharge from a gutter, or a pile of plowed snow across a sidewalk. But for the past six years, Massachusetts has followed the rule of reasonable care.

All residential and commercial property owners now have to take reasonable steps to clear the snow and ice hazards and keep their property safe for traveling.

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More snowfall today just means more frustration for many of us in Massachusetts. Before today, the Boston area had already seen more than 53 inches of snow this winter, 10 inches more than the total annual average. Worcester is also close to setting a record, recording 72 inches, just four inches away.

Much of the snow has fallen hard during the past two weeks, during the Blizzard of 2015 and other storms. A Washington Post headline summed it up best: “Boston’s record-setting snow blitz – a winter’s worth of snow in less than 10 days.”

Those 10 days should be done now. But Mother Nature just keeps throwing down snow, though she gave the Patriots a reprieve, allowing them to hold their Super Bowl parade in Boston this week. But even the professional football team had to postpone a day to avoid the bitter cold and to let the City of Boston catch up on the clean-up.


More snow is expected this weekend. A few things to remember:

Clearing Snow from Your Property. Homeowners in Massachusetts have a responsibility to clear the snow and ice from their driveways, walkways and other areas of their property. It is important to make sure your family and others, such as friends, postal carriers and delivery workers, can safely visit your property without slipping and falling.

If someone slips and falls on your property, you could be held liable for damages, even if they are uninvited. For a long time, Massachusetts law regarding snow and ice injuries exempted property owners from liability if someone was injured as a result of snow that naturally accumulated and had not been cleared. But in 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court overruled this nearly century old rule. There is now a clear directive that Massachusetts property owners must remove snow and ice. The case is Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, SJC-10529 (July 26, 2010). Here is a past blog and a Lawyer Alert we wrote on the ruling.


Snow Blower. Make sure you read the instructions and understand your snow blower before using it in heavy snow conditions. If the snow blower is jammed DO NOT attempt to clear it by hand. Even if the blower is not running, it can have stored up mechanical energy that can deliver devastating injuries. Check with the manufacturer and the Consumer Product Safety Commission at the start of each winter to see if there have been any product recalls.

Here is a resource for safe use of snow blowers.


Shoveling Snow Safely. While you must clear the snow, you also have to be safe. Snow removal can lead to injuries, some minor and some very serious, such as heart attacks, dehydration, pulled muscles, broken bones from slip and falls and frostbite. Always consult with your doctor if you concerned about your ability to undertake this strenuous exercise.

If you shovel, drink plenty of water, stop periodically to stretch and dress in layers so you can easily remove one if you get overheated. Try to push the snow, rather than lift it, when you can. Here is an article about shoveling snow safely.


Driving and Taking Public Transportation. Be patient. Limit your time on the road if you can. The Governor of Massachusetts declared a state of emergency and travel ban during the recent blizzard. Many employers closed their offices then and since on other days of heavy snowfall.

When you have to travel, consider public transportation when you can or stagger your work day schedule if it helps and your employer allows this.

If you ride the MBTA, monitor the website, app or local TV stations. Red Line and Orange Line commuters faced significant delays this week, with 40 percent of the cars disabled for mechanical problems. Many commuters were left standing outside in the cold, waiting for trains or had to take buses. Systems are failing all over the state.


Walking. The snowbanks are tall and the roads narrow in many areas, making it hard to walk. If you must walk outside, wear visible clothing, including a bright safety vest if you have one, so you are visible to drivers. Walk on sidewalks and carefully look around snowbanks before stepping into the streets, even at crosswalks.

Watch out for regular traffic, as well as snow plows. A Weymouth woman was killed in a pedestrian accident this week when she was struck by a plow driver at her condominium complex.

Carry your cell phone in case of an emergency but do not use it while walking. Also do not wear headphones and listen to music when trying to face the complications of winter travel.
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snowroof_180.jpgA young woman’s death after heavy snow caused a roof collapse in Weymouth has officials warning the public to watch out for their homes.

On Thursday, a 29-year-old woman was killed when a carport collapsed on her. The woman was talking on the phone while sitting on the porch steps of a Harlem Road home. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has issued a warning for the public to clear off their home roofs and storm drains in their neighborhoods to minimize flooding problems.

While we expect snow in Massachusetts, it has challenged drivers and caused numerous school day cancellations this season. Piles of snow have hampered visibility. Drivers are navigating a maze of snow-packed and slushy roads along with dangerous potholes and, which are starting to appear in the melting.

In addition to the Weymouth woman’s death, a barn collapse in Framingham killed three cows and injured four others this week. At the Burlington Mall, a water main break trapped a vehicle in a large sinkhole. The mall was closed but expected to re-open today.

It may seem like a record-setting season, but not this year. Yes, we are already 25 inches above the average season’s snowfall. But earlier this week (before the snowfall) the Boston Herald reported that while Boston had seen 53.5 inches, 1995-1996 was the record snow year, with 107.6 inches. The National Weather Service has predicted this season will not even make the top 10 list for heaviest snowfalls.

When snow piles up, some roofs are vulnerable to collapse, especially when there are numerous snow storms combined with rain and overnight melting. Flat commercial roofs are at the greatest risk. This year, while the snow may not appear that deep, some of the storms have dumped heavy wet snow, and that has been followed by soaking rains. The loads are immense.

How to remove snow from a roof is a challenge. Homeowners can attempt to clear it themselves with a snow rake, which can be purchased at most hardware stores. But you should never use a snow rake from a roof. You should clear the snow from the ground to avoid the risk of slipping and falling and head injuries.

Unless you are experienced, avoid ladders, which can be extremely slippery. The other thing to know is that metal snow rakes can conduct electricity if they come into contact with a power line.

Often by this time of year, a roof may require a professional treatment because of repeated snow storms and winter freezing. If that is the case, call someone who is experienced and insured for this type of work. They should be insured in case they damage your home, and they should also carry worker’s compensation insurance for their employees. You have the right to ask for proof of insurance, and you should.

Finally, do take some time to shovel your walks and your stairs. It the safe and the neighborly thing to do.
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If you are a property owner, today is a good time to inspect your driveway and walkways. Even if you worked hard to clear all the snow yesterday, go out and take a second look. The deep freeze is setting in and more snow is forecast for tomorrow, creating the potential for slip and fall accidents.

Why is this important? In addition to making it easier for your family to come and go from your home, you have a duty to use reasonable care to clear snow and ice under Massachusetts law. If you neglect this, you could be liable for any injuries that result.

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Massachusetts Law on Snow and Ice Removal The law for clearing your property is more strict than in past years. It changed in 2010, with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, SJC-10529 (July 26, 2010). View TV interviews from 2010/2011 in which attorney David White explains the law.

Prior to then, property owners were liable for injuries sustained on what was known as “unnatural accumulations” of snow or ice. Examples of this are gutters leaking onto sidewalks or snow piled on sidewalks.

The state’s high court changed the longstanding law so it falls in line with other states. Massachusetts property owners now have a responsibility to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition and clear all snow and ice, whether it is a natural accumulation by Mother Nature or pushed there by a plow.

This law applies to homeowners as well as commercial property owners.

A few points to remember when it snows:

  • You have a responsibility to clear your driveway, sidewalks and other areas accessible to the public.
  • If you are using a snow blower, remember a shovel for narrow and hard-to-reach areas.
  • Do you have the physical ability and time to clear your snow this year? If not, consider contacting a snow removal company.
  • Cities have responsibility for clearing sidewalks, but some have ordinances requiring residents to clear their own. These include Boston, Worcester and Newton.

Safety
We all have to balance our legal responsibility to clear the snow with safety. It is hard work and tempting to take shortcuts at times. Remember a few basic safety rules. Do not start your snow blower in your garage or other covered areas. Before you shovel your driveway, clear your home’s heating vents so carbon monoxide does not build up in your home. Then, make sure you dress in layers and take breaks as needed.

Related:
Snow removal law may face test, Boston Globe, Dec. 25, 2010.
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snow-blizzard-2013.jpgAfter a snow storm that buried Massachusetts with record-setting strength, many of us are slowly making our way back to our daily routines.

Massive snow banks, narrow roads and giant icicles are now the challenge. Governor Deval Patrick has lifted the weekend’s driving ban, but the State of Emergency remained in effect this morning. Many schools cancelled classes for another day and Boston Mayor Tom Menino encouraged businesses to let their employees work from home today.

Our tips for staying safe and avoiding injuries as you travel:

Community Websites. Check your community website for information about snow plowing and closed streets, as well as power outages and school closures.

Public Transportation. Use the MBTA if you are traveling into Boston. Mayor Menino is urging the public to stay off the roads to make room for cleanup.

Store and Pharmacy. Choose merchants close to home if you are heading out to restock up on food, medications and other supplies. Travel in daylight if possible.

Pedestrians Use Caution. Stay indoors today. Over the next few weeks, limit outdoor walks until the snow melts. If you must walk, wear a neon-colored vest.

Drivers. If you do drive, beware of the tall snowbanks and avoid roads which may not be fully cleared. Remember some roads may not have enough space for two-lane traffic.

Parking. Call ahead to ask about parking, even to your employer. Parking may not be available or be limited. Looking for spaces can lead to frustration among drivers and car accidents.

Gasoline and Vehicle Supplies. Keep your gas tank full over the next few days and equip your car with supplies such as a first aid kit, snow brush, small shovel, blanket and an extra hat and pair of mittens.

Take a Minute. Driving in these conditions can be stressful and accidents can occur. If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, pull over at your earliest opportunity. Take a minute to think about your options and if necessary, call the local police or fire department on their non-emergency line and ask for their direction.

Related:
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency App.

City of Boston

MBTA
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Snow at doorwayIn a few hours, a historic snowstorm is forecast to begin, blanketing Boston with 18 inches in many areas and 24 to 32 inches in some regions. Gov. Deval Patrick has urged the public to stay home, and directed non-essential state employees not to report to work. Many schools and offices have closed in response. The MBTA will close at 3:30 this afternoon and may remain shut down through the weekend.

With a few more hours, here are some tips to prepare yourself:

Have a Plan to Stay in Contact. Whether you live at home with your family or in an apartment on your own, have a plan to communicate with your relatives, landlord and others. Gather phone numbers for snow plow companies, neighbors and local police and fire departments.

Check Your Community Website. Your city or town should post emergency information for residents to follow during the storm, including plans for clearing snow, snow storm accidents and emergency notifications.

Keep in Touch Electronically. Charge your cell phone now and monitor news on TV and the Internet. Another source of information is to dial 2-1-1, the state’s telephone information call center during times of emergency. You can also sign up for electronic alerts from the state on your phone by clicking here.

Social Media. If you are on Facebook, you can follow MEMA, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency by visiting its page. If you use Twitter, the hashtag for storm updates is #MAStorm.

Gas Up. The lines at the pump may be long, but if you can, fill your car with gasoline. This will give you a way to charge your cell phone if your home loses power.

Food and Supplies. Make sure you have enough food and supplies to pass the weekend, including bottled water and flashlights. Also make sure you have any medications you may need.

Power Loss. We may lose power so set your appliances and gather supplies accordingly. Set your refrigerator to the coldest setting and have a cooler ready, so you can keep it shut as much as possible during the storm. Food can stay cold in a full refrigerator for up to 24 hours and in a full-packed freezer for 48 hours. Have non-perishable food on hand as well, such as granola bars.

Turn Off TVs and Other Appliances. If we lose power, unplug sensitive electronic equipment such as TVs, microwave ovens and computers. These can cause irregularities when power is restored. Leave a light on so you know power is restored.

Plan for a Heating Loss. Gather blankets and seal off unused rooms by stuffing towels in the space under the doors. At night, cover windows with extra blankets and sheets. Make sure you regularly eat.

Freezing Pipes. If pipes freeze, remove insulation, turn on all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes. With caution, you can also use a hand-held hair dryer on the pipes.

Clearing Snow. Keep up with clearing snow as much as you can in the early hours of the storm and after the storm, follow directions from state and local officials for clearing it from areas such as sidewalks.

Clear Snow from Furnace Pipe. Throughout the storm, make sure your furnace exhaust vents remains clear of snow to avoid a build-up of carbon monoxide in your home. This is essential even when you cannot clear your driveway and other areas because it could result in poisoning.

Related:
Winter Power Outage Safety Tips, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
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An appeal by a plaintiff in a Massachusetts snow and ice slip-and-fall case has led to the opportunity for trial. The Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated the original judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings after finding that the judge erred in allowing the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

The case arose from a fall that occurred outside a McDonald’s restaurant in 2007. The plaintiff, Mercilia Lindor, slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside the restaurant, breaking her foot. While still lying on the sidewalk, Lindor witnessed another man close by slip and fall to his knees. The conditions were so bad that emergency personnel at the scene had difficulty moving the plaintiff. They had to ask McDonald’s employees to salt the area.

Prior to trial, McDonald’s moved for a summary judgment, arguing that the ice outside the restaurant had accumulated naturally, and that under long-standing Massachusetts common law it was not liable for an accident occurring under those conditions. The plaintiff filed no opposition, and the judge allowed the defendant’s motion, issuing the order on July 22, 2010.
The resulting judgment was entered on the docket on July 28, 2010.

Two days prior to this, however, on July 26, 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the case of Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., in which it established a new standard for determining liability in cases of injury arising from ice and snow accidents: property owners must take “reasonable care” to remove all accumulations of ice and snow. This new standard does not require any distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” accumulations.

The Court also held that the ruling was retroactive, meaning it will be applied to all open and pending claims in which a judgment had not yet been entered. Although the judge issued an order for summary judgment prior to the Papadopoulos ruling, in Massachusetts a judgment is only considered final when a clerk dockets it. Fortunately for the plaintiff, this occurred on July 28, two days after the ruling in Papadopoulos. For this reason, the “reasonable care” standard established in Papadopoulos will apply to Lindor’s case.

The Court decided that there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether McDonald’s took “reasonable care” in protecting lawful visitors to the property, and as a result, the judgment was vacated, enabling Ms. Lindor to pursue her claim.

The case decided was Lindor v. McDonald’s Restaurants of Massachusetts, Inc., Mass. App. Ct No. 10-P-1615 (November 10, 2011).
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