Massachusetts Property Owners Now Have a Duty of Reasonable Care in Snow Removal
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.
Nine Pedestrian Accidents in One Day Highlights Need for Vision Zero, Other Safety Efforts in Boston
The Boston Herald has renewed concerns about pedestrian safety with a report that nine pedestrians were hit in Boston on the same day.
On Tuesday, January 17th, the city saw its worst day for pedestrian accidents since at least June 2015, according to a Herald analysis. The first pedestrian accident occurred at a McDonald’s restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue in the South End. This accident occurred shortly after 9:30 a.m. The other eight accidents occurred between 4:30 p.m. and about 9 p.m., in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Brighton and Hyde Park.
Pedestrian Accidents: The Numbers
Pedestrian accidents are a concern for everyone on the roads. In Massachusetts, we do a lot of walking. According to WalkBoston, more than 10 percent of all trips in Massachusetts are taken on foot (this is more than 40 percent greater than the national average).
When it comes to work, 12 percent of Massachusetts residents commute by walking. The number is higher in some communities. In Cambridge, 24 percent of residents walk to work.
According to the Boston Herald, pedestrian injuries are on the rise in Boston. In 2016, 904 pedestrians were injured in crashes, a 15 percent increase over 2015. Twelve pedestrians died in 2016, up from nine in 2015.
Mayor Marty Walsh has formed a Vision Zero task force with a goal of eliminating fatal and serious traffic fatalities in Boston by 2030. As part of the Vision Zero work, the city lowered its default speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph in early January. The change does not impact state-owned roads. If you live or work in Boston, learn more about Boston’s speed limit change.
Pedestrian Safety Tips
Use Sidewalks. The sidewalk is the safest place for pedestrians. If no sidewalks are available, walk on the left side, against traffic so that drivers have a chance to make eye contact with you.
At Night. Carry a flashlight and wear a reflective safety vest if you walk at night or in the early morning.
Use Crosswalks and Traffic Signals. Use crosswalks and press the Walk button when available. Drivers are required to stop for you under Massachusetts law. Other cars are not allowed to pass the stopped vehicle.
Pay Attention to Safety Alerts. Winter is a harsh time for pedestrians. Pay attention to safety alerts and travel warnings from the State of Massachusetts, the MBTA, public schools, communities and your employers.
Beware of Snowbanks and Snowplows. Tall snowbanks obstruct the view between drivers and pedestrians. Wear a neon safety vest if you must walk in travel in these areas and pay attention to traffic. After a storm, expect to see snowplows on streets and working in parking lots. Take it slow.
Beware of Construction Areas. Areas such as North Station in Boston are now much harder for pedestrians to travel due to construction. Pay attention to notices about construction schedules and avoid building activity and construction workers whenever possible.
Watch for Cars Backing Up. Pedestrian accidents can happen when drivers neglect to check for pedestrians as they pull out of a parking space or a driveway. Watch out for these drivers and stop to let them back out.
From Breakstone, White & Gluck’s Experience
Our attorneys have over 100 years combined experience representing pedestrians who have been injured by the negligence of drivers and defective roadway conditions. Our law firm represented one pedestrian who was struck by a MBTA bus in a crosswalk in 2005. The pedestrian suffered serious injuries and required amputation of her right leg. The case went to trial and was appealed by the MBTA. The final award was $7.1 million for our client. See the re-enactment video we prepared for trial. It shows one way pedestrians can be put at serious risk.
Massachusetts Law: Property Owners Have Responsibility to Keep Their Property Reasonably Safe from Snow and Ice Hazards
Many 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.
Massachusetts started following the rule of reasonable care after the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in the case of Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 457 Mass. 368 (2010).
Attorney David W. White has written on the rule, discussed the case in the media and participated in MCLE panels on property owners’ liability in snow and ice cases.
“Property owners must understand it is no longer optional to shovel so you should get out there early and keep up with it,” White said.
Read Attorney White’s comments in The Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal and the Allston-Brighton Tab newspaper.
About Attorney David W. White
Attorney David W. White has distinguished himself for his advocacy on behalf of his clients and his leadership among Massachusetts lawyers. Attorney White is a past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association who has represented clients injured in personal injury cases for over 30 years. He has been selected as one of the Top 100 Super Lawyers in New England and Top 100 Super Lawyers in Massachusetts. Read more about Attorney David W. White.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
The Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck have over 100 years combined experience representing individuals who have been seriously injured in slip and fall accidents and snow and ice accidents caused by a property owner’s negligence. If you have been injured, it is important to learn your rights. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning a Risk in Winter
With the official start of winter just days away, it is a good time to get your home and automobile ready. While some types of home heating equipment require little preparation, it is best to review yours before the snowfall.
Winter home heating carries the risk for fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, which can result from a build-up of the invisible, poisoning gas. Each year, half of all home fires occur in the three months from December to February, when home heating equipment is most used. Some 1,500 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, while more than 10,000 suffer carbon monoxide injuries, according to Children’s Hospital Boston.
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are working and properly placed. Massachusetts requires smoke alarms be installed on every habitable level of a residence as well as in basements. Carbon monoxide detectors are also required on every habitable level of the home. Additional units are recommended outside of bedrooms and sleeping areas.
Get your chimney professionally cleaned once a year. Report any cracks or water leaking. Fall is the best time for a cleaning. Creosote can build up in the chimney over time, lead to blockages and produce carbon monoxide. Creosote is created when firewood does not burn correctly, when wet or soft wood is placed in the fireplace and by closing the fireplace before the wood is fully burned.
Open the fireplace damper before lighting and keep it open until the ashes are cool. Never close the damper before going to bed if the ashes are still warm. An open damper may prevent the build-up of poisoning gases. Light your fire with matches. Never use gasoline, charcoal lighter or another fuel because the vapors can explode. Make sure you have no flammable materials near open flames.
Your heating system will likely have a vent on your home’s exterior. The vent will have two pipes, one of which lets air in and one of which sends air back out. Make sure both of these pipes are kept clear of snow to avoid carbon monoxide from building up in your home.
Check your snow tires and decide whether you need new ones. Check your tires’ air pressure using a gauge, which you can purchase at an auto parts store. Put an emergency kit inside your car and make sure it includes a neon-glow vest, snacks, a flash light and other essential supplies. Click for a full list of emergency safety supplies.
If you have a garage, make sure you do not warm up your car inside it with a closed door. Pull your car out and heat it in the driveway to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
For more information about winter safety, visit these sites:
Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety, Centers for Disease Control.
Home Safety Tips for a Safe and Healthy Winter, Home Safety Council.