Cautionary Tales about Snow and Ice Accidents in Massachusetts

Snow shoveling

Snow shoveling

As we negotiate the season’s first snow, there are many warnings: give yourself extra time, drive slowly and clear your car, front steps and driveway.

Remember these precautions in coming days and weeks, especially if you are a property owner. In Massachusetts, property owners have a duty to use reasonable care in clearing snow and ice so no one is injured. Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 457 Mass. 368 (2010). Where there was once a distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” snow accumulations, there is no longer. The best way to keep your property safe is keep up with each snow fall. Frequently inspect your property throughout the season.

Snow and ice injuries can be serious, requiring months or more to heal. Shoveling your driveway is your responsibility as a property owner and the right thing to do. No one wants to bear the guilt of causing another person injury. And no one wants to be held liable for someone else’s injury and have to pay financial damages.

At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our Boston personal injury lawyers have extensive experience handling premises liability cases, including snow and ice injuries caused by negligence. We share our cases as cautionary tales.

Slip and Fall on Icy Ramp at Commercial Property, $825,000 Settlement
Attorney Marc L. Breakstone successfully negotiated an out-of-court settlement for a client who suffered a serious fall on an icy handicap ramp. The ramp was on a commercial property. Our client suffered a trimalleolar fracture with ankle fusion and had to undergo multiple surgeries. Photos gathered in the case showed part of the handrail was actually missing prior to the accident and there was ice from a downspout. The case settled in favor of our client after two days of mediation. Attorney Breakstone had engaged an engineering expert and meteorology expert to testify had the case gone to court.

Heavy Snow Collapse Causes Traumatic Brain Injury, Undisclosed Settlement After 4th Day of Trial
Attorney Ronald E. Gluck successfully negotiated a settlement for our client, who was injured when heavy snow collapsed suddenly from a commercial warehouse roof onto her vehicle. The defendants – the property owner, the property management company and the company which leased the warehouse – had neglected their duty to clear the snow and provide a safe environment. The case went to Middlesex Superior Court, where Attorney Gluck presented testimony from multiple expert witnesses, including a neurologist and  a meteorologist, in support of his client’s case. Each day, the defendants made an offer to settle the case. After the fourth day, Attorney Gluck’s client accepted an offer that represented an 800 percent increase from the pre-trial offer.

Free Legal Consultation – Breakstone, White & Gluck

Breakstone, White & Gluck brings more than 100 years combined legal experience to those injured by negligence in Massachusetts. We represent clients across Massachusetts, including in Boston and Cambridge; Saugus and the North Shore; Brockton and Plymouth; Cape Cod; Framingham and MetroWest; and Worcester and Central Massachusetts.

If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, learn your rights. Contact Breakstone, White & Gluck for a free legal consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys. Call 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676. You can also use our contact form.

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Massachusetts Property Owners and Drivers Have a Responsibility to Clear Snow

The forecast is calling for snow in Boston. Get your shovels ready. Clearing snow and ice isn’t just considerate. It’s a responsibility for property owners and drivers under Massachusetts law.

As personal injury attorneys, we have represented many people who have slipped on snow and ice across Massachusetts and never saw the danger or risk. Slips and falls can happen on both residential and commercial property, on walkways, parking lots and unsecured railings. These injuries can be long-lasting and often leave a person unable to work for a period of time. As a property owner, remember you are in control of your property. Shovel and monitor your property so no one is injured.

Massachusetts Property Owners Must Shovel

Massachusetts law recognizes that property owners have a responsibility to clear snow and ice – now. But this was not always true.

In 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case of Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, SJC-10529 (July 26, 2010). This ruling changed everything for property owners and those who are injured on snow and ice.

In Papadopoulos, the plaintiff fell on ice in a parking lot outside a Target department store at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers. Claims were brought against the Target Corporation and Weiss Landscaping Company, the contractor in charge of snow and ice removal.

In its ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court abolished the long-standing distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” snow accumulations. In the past, the cause of snow accumulation was significant in determining whether those injured could bring a claim against the property owner. If snow and ice had naturally accumulated, the property owner may not be held liable for injuries. But property owners could be held liable for unnatural accumulations, such as snow thrown by a plow or shovel.

This was known as the “Massachusetts rule,” of natural accumulation. It was rejected by every other high court in New England, according to the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision.

With this decision, the Supreme Judicial Court wrote that property owners will now be held to the same duty of car to act as a reasonable person, regardless of how snow and ice forms to create a property defect.

For property owners, the takeaway is clear your driveways and walkways. Don’t let snow and ice accumulate. If you do, someone could be seriously injured and you could be held liable.

  • Clear snow during and after snowstorms. Salt regularly. Start early into a snowstorm. After a snowstorm, monitor the ice accumulations on your property. Your property may also need attention for the next few days.
  • Safety for your visitors. Approach your property by foot. Walk up your driveway and on any paths. Test how safe these areas are for your friends, family and delivery professionals.
  • Porch safety. If you have a porch, keep it clear of snow and ice during the winter, so melting does not damage or weaken the wood. Remove furniture from your porch so you have no trouble shoveling.

Massachusetts Drivers Must Shovel, Scrape and Clear

The Massachusetts Driver’s Manual states drivers should remove snow and ice from their vehicles before driving. We urge you to plan extra time. Clear all windows, windshield wipers, headlights and brake lights, so your vehicle is fully operational.

Take extra care to clear your vehicle’s roof. Failure to do so can send snow onto the car behind you, throwing the driver off or causing a car accident.

Drivers can be cited for failure to clear snow in Massachusetts. Police can fine drivers with impeded operation if they drive with snow-covered windows. This offense is punishable by a $40 fine.

When a driver fails to clear their roof, they may face a $200 fine for driving with an unsecured load. Drivers of commercial trucks, passenger trucks, vans and other vehicles traveling with snow and ice and other unsecured loads are highly dangerous, especially in winter conditions. Slow down and create space between you and any vehicle which makes you feel unsafe. Move to another lane. Write down the driver’s license plate and contact police.

A driver’s failure to clear snow can lead to a traffic citations, but also criminal charges and liability in a civil case if someone is injured.

Boston Snow and Ice Accident Lawyers – Free Legal Consultation: 800-379-1244
Breakstone, White & Gluck of Boston has over 100 years combined experience representing those injured by the negligence of commercial and residential property owners. We have expertise in handling cases involving snow and ice falls, porch collapses and landlord negligence. Our Boston personal injury attorneys have represented clients across the state of Massachusetts, including Boston, Brockton, Hyannis and Cape Cod, Fall River, Framingham and Worcester.

For a free consultation, call our office at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.

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Snow and Ice Accident Appeal Leads to New Trial in Massachusetts Superior Court

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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Attorney David White Discusses Snow and Ice Law on Legal Talk Network

With near record levels of snowfall across Massachusetts this winter, the state has seen many car accidents, over 100 roof collapses and many school closures. These challenges follow Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., the 2010 Massachusetts court ruling which raised the legal burden on Massachusetts property owners to clear snow and ice.

With the ruling, Massachusetts property owners must take reasonable care to remove all snow and ice from their property or be found liable for resulting injuries from snow and ice falls. Previously, property owners were not liable for injuries resulting from natural accumulations. While a new law often faces challenges in the first few months, this extreme winter has added many unexpected turns.

Attorney David W. White of Breakstone, White & Gluck and Attorney James T. Scamby of Tucker, Heifetz & Saltzman joined Legal Talk Network and co-host Bob Ambrogi this week to discuss what the new law means in this extreme winter.

Click here to hear the podcast.

Click here to learn more about the show and news stories about Massachusetts’ snow and ice law.
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Driving Safely On The Roads This Winter

Massachusetts commuters struggled through a hard January, as a record four feet of snow slammed the region, making for dangerous drives, difficult walking and weary spirits.

As February moves in, both the snowbanks and frustrations keep growing – making it even more important to plan before heading outside, especially if you commute to work.

The risk for car accidents increases in the snow and approximately 70 percent of all winter deaths related to snow and ice occur in automobiles, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Here are our some safety tips from the Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck:

  • Have a well-stocked Winter Emergency Car Kit. It should include a flashlight with extra batteries, cell phone charger, first-aid kit, windshield scraper and brush, shovel and a brightly colored cloth to use as a flag. Click here for other items to include.
  • Consider public transportation.
  • If you drive, travel during daylight hours. Consider commuting with a co-worker on the most difficult days.
  • Slow down on the road. Many times, hazards such as black ice cannot be seen until it’s too late.
  • Be extra cautious driving around bends in the road. The tall snowbanks have narrowed the roadways, leaving less room for both you and other cars, increasing the chance for car accidents on snow and ice.
  • Give the snow plows extra room to work.
  • Be aware you may have to slow down for pedestrians in areas where sidewalks aren’t shoveled.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank at least half-full.
  • Make sure your car has good winter tires with adequate tread and pressure.
  • If you do have to stop your car on the highway, stay calm. Pull off the road and turn off the hazard lights. Take the brightly colored distress flag from your snow emergency kit and tie it to your radio antenna or window. Call the local police and your local auto club for assistance.

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Snowblower Safety Tips For A Hard Winter

A snowblower is a valued asset in Massachusetts amid a winter which has already blanketed the region with several feet of snow.

But while a snowblower may look relatively simple to operate, remember it’s a powerful tool that must be used with caution. Each year, approximately 5,700 people visit emergency rooms for injuries associated with snowblowers, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

A new Massachusetts law took effect in 2010, requiring property owners to take reasonable care to remove all snow accumulation from their property and keep accessible areas safe to travel. A landowner who fails to do so may be held liable for snow and ice injuries that occur on his or her property.

In a winter like this one, keeping your property safe from slip and falls means more than pulling out the snowblower and salting down the front steps. Snow has built up on roofs, buried heating vents and left long icicles hanging over frequently traveled areas.

Plan ahead and avoid an emergency on your property. Here are some tips from the Boston snow and ice accident lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck:

  • Check your property now before the next snowstorm. Chances are there are existing snow patches and icicles you can clear so they do not become more dangerous.
  • Read the user manual that came with your snowblower to avoid injuring yourself and others.
  • Many injuries associated with snowblowers occur when consumers try to clear clogged snow from the auger shaft and blades. Never attempt to do this with your hands. Purchase a newer model that comes with a clearing tool or if necessary, use a long stick.
  • Snowblowers emit a large amount of carbon monoxide. Always start your machine outside and never inside a garage.
  • Dress appropriately when using the snowblower. Long scarves and jacket drawstrings can easily get caught in the machine and cause an accident.
  • Check online to see if there have been any product recalls or updates involving your snowblower since last winter. The CPSC website is a good place to start.
  • Walk around your house and identify the locations of all heating and dryer vents. Clear them completely. Make sure they are accessible so you can reach them to remove snow during the next snowstorm.
  • As you walk around your home, inspect your roof for icicles. The longer icicles should be removed to prevent accidents and someone from being hit. It is unsafe to use a ladder in the snow. Purchase a snow broom or snow roof rake from your local hardware store.

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