Articles Tagged with “snow and ice accidents”

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.

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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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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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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This year’s snow fall brings new responsibilities for Massachusetts property owners. A new law took effect in July 2010, when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case of Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation.

The ruling means property owners now must take reasonable care to remove all snow accumulation from their property and keep accessible areas safe to travel. Previously, Massachusetts property owners enjoyed a special exemption from liability for “natural accumulations” of snow and ice. An injured person had to demonstrate the accumulation was “unnatural,” such as a snow pile created by a plow.

The ruling means snow removal is now a requirement. If a property owner fails to use reasonable care in clearing snow and ice from their property and someone is injured as a result, the property owner can be held liable.

Breakstone, White and Gluck has recently explained the new law in the media, including what it means for property owners and those injured in snow and ice accidents. Here’s what we had to say:

Snow Removal Law May Face Test. Attorney David White discusses Massachusetts’ new snow removal law in The Boston Globe. Dec. 25, 2010. Click here to read.

Attorney David White tells WBZ-TV about the new standard for snow removal in Massachusetts and offers property owners tips for protecting themselves. Click here to watch. Dec. 20, 2010.

Attorney David White is interviewed by Fox 25 about the recent Massachusetts snow and ice decision and its impact on snow removal for property owners. Click here to watch. Dec. 17, 2010.

Snow and Ice Removal No Longer Optional. Attorney David White explains what a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling means for property owners and snow removal this winter. Allston-Brighton Tab. Dec. 17, 2010. Click here to read.

Supreme Judicial Court Changes Rules on Snow Removal in Historic Decision. On July 26, 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court abolished the longstanding distinction between natural and unnatural snow accumulation in slip and fall cases. Attorney David White tells The Boston Globe the ruling means, “all property owners must pay attention to conditions caused by snow and ice.” Read the article here . Also read White’s comments in the Salem News and to the Associated Press.

Attorney Marc Breakstone tells Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly snow and ice decision is, “one of the greatest public safety decisions to come down in last 25 years.” Read full article here.
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Months after a landmark court ruling regarding snow and ice removal in Massachusetts, the city of Newton is considering a sidewalk snow removal ordinance.

The city initially proposed an ordinance requiring snow be cleared within 24 hours of a storm. Residents protested and city officials have proposed another ordinance allowing 30 hours. Businesses would still have 24 hours. The proposal is pending.

Many municipalities have ordinances requiring residents to keep their sidewalks clear to avoid snow and ice accidents. In Boston, renters, property owners and management companies of residential buildings with less than six units have six hours. Commercial property owners, renters and management companies have three hours, as do managers and owners of residential properties with more than six units.

Other communities provide larger windows of time. Springfield allows residential property owners and renters 24 hours while Worcester permits 10.

These ordinances are designed to protect the public on sidewalks. But property owners have a responsibility to keep their entire property safe after the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, SJC-10529 (July 26, 2010).

Prior to the decision, property owners were liable for injuries sustained on what is known as an “unnatural accumulation” of snow or ice, such as a snow plow pushing snow onto a driveway. Now, property owners are liable for injuries resulting from natural accumulations as well, meaning they have a responsibility to keep their property reasonably safe and free from snow and ice after a storm.

If you are a property owner, this means you want to consider how you can prevent snow and ice accidents on your property this winter. Here are a few tips:

  • You have a responsibility to clear your driveway, sidewalks and other areas accessible to the public.
  • If you are using a snow blower, keep a shovel on hand as a back-up.
  • Stock up on salt and use it regularly throughout a storm and in the hours afterward, when a large amount of freezing occurs.
  • Walk your property after the snow falls. If you cannot move across it safely, others will be at risk.
  • Ask yourself if you can handle your own snow removal. If not, contact a snow plowing company.

For more information about your obligations as a property owner, visit the Breakstone, White & Gluck website.

Click here to read about the city of Newton’s proposed snow removal ordinance.
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