The winter of 2009 has already beaten the law of averages when it comes to total snowfall. But this year has distinguished itself even more as the winter of ice storms. Those storms have left thousands without power, some for weeks on end. And all of that ice has led to spikes in admissions to emergency rooms around Massachusetts for broken ankles, fractured wrists, hip fractures, and back injuries.
So many people wonder, who can be held responsible if you slip and fall on a patch of ice or snow? Believe it or not, in Massachusetts personal injury cases caused by slips and falls on ice or snow are very difficult cases, and often do not lead to liability.
For one thing, the common law in Massachusetts precludes premises liability for accidents which occur as the result of natural accumulations of ice or snow. This means that if your neighbor fails to shovel or the office downtown leaves some ice after an ice storm, then the landowner is probably not liable. The same is usually true even if the landowner has moved only some of the snow or ice which had naturally accumulated.
The situation changes when snow is moved into piles. Piles which obstruct your passage on sidewalks, walkways, or driveways can be found to be unnatural accumulations. Another uncommon unnatural accumulation is the discharge of water from drain pipes or gutters onto walkways. Other alterations to property which cause water to form ice in channels or puddles may also lead to liability.
Massachusetts also has strict notice requirements after an accident caused by snow or ice. The landowner must be notified within thirty days, or the landowner may have a legal defense of prejudice due to lack of notice.