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).