The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, on July 26, 2010, dramatically changed the rules of a landowner’s liability for personal injuries caused by snow and ice. The Papadopoulos case put to rest the old Massachusetts rule that a victim injured by a slip and fall on snow or ice had to prove that the snow or ice was an “unnatural accumulation”.
This rule led to lots of disputes about what was and was not an unnatural accumulation, none of which had any relevance to the issue of whether the landowner kept the premises where the injury occurred in reasonably safe condition. The Papadopoulos court stated: “We now will apply to hazards arising from snow and ice the same obligation that a property owner owes to lawful visitors as to all other hazards: a duty to ‘act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probable seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk.’
This introduces no special burden on property owners. If a property owner knows or reasonably should know of a dangerous condition on its property, whether arising from an accumulation of snow or ice, or rust on a railing, or a discarded banana peel, the property owner owes a duty to lawful visitors to make reasonable efforts to protect lawful visitors against the danger…. Under this traditional premises liability standard, a fact finder will determine what snow and ice removal efforts are reasonable in light of the expense they impose on the landowner and the probability and seriousness of the foreseeable harm to others…. The duty of reasonable care does not make a property owner an insurer of its property; ‘nor does it impose unreasonable maintenance burdens.’ The snow removal reasonably expected of a property owner will depend on the amount of foot traffic to be anticipated on the property, the magnitude of the risk reasonably feared, and the burden and expense of snow and ice removal. Therefore, while an owner of a single-family home, an apartment house owner, a store owner, and a nursing home operator each owe lawful visitors to their property a duty of reasonable care, what constitutes reasonable snow removal may vary among them.”
The new rule applies retroactively, meaning that it applies to all pending cases and to all potential claims where the statute of limitations has not yet expired. Therefore, injuries that would not have been allowed to proceed to trial may now result in a settlement or compensation from a jury trial. The court has given a road-map of what has to be proven to collect for personal injuries caused by a fall on snow or ice. The more foot traffic expected in the area, the longer the snow or ice was present without removal or sanding or salting, the magnitude of the risk created by negligent removal such as posed by snow or ice at a nursing home or store, the expense and difficulty of removal or sanding or salting, all will make it more likely to obtain a settlement or compensation after a jury trial. Those who have suffered personal injuries as a result of falling on snow or ice within the last few years should consult a personal injury lawyer to determine whether the new Papadopoulos case would allow for compensation for their personal injuries resulting from a premises owner’s negligence in failing to properly remove snow and ice and/or prevent falls on snow and ice by sanding and salting.
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