Slips and Falls on Snow and Ice in Massachusetts
Major Changes in “Snow and Ice Law”
By Attorney Eric J. Parker
On July 26th, 2010, Massachusetts’ highest court completely overhauled century-old law governing liability for injuries caused by falls on snow and ice. The ruling, in the case of Papadopoulos, et al. v. Target Corp., et al., effectively abolished the distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” accumulations of snow and ice as a basis for determining the property owner’s liability. Under previously existing case law, a person who suffered injuries (including death) as a result of a fall on snow or ice could only recover if the accumulation of snow or ice was deemed an “unnatural” accumulation – that is, that the snow or ice would not have existed in such a state had it not been for some man-made or synthetic condition. If, on the other hand, a person suffered injuries as a result of a “natural” accumulation of snow or ice – meaning that the snow or ice was the result of natural conditions (such as snowfall, or the freezing of puddled water) then no liability would exist on the part of the property for injuries resulting from such conditions. The Papadopoulos case changed all of that.
As of July 26th, 2010, with respect to all snow and ice cases – both pending and future – the law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts pertaining to snow or ice liability will no longer rest on the “quality” of the accumulation. No longer will a lawyer representing an injured person be required to prove that the offending condition was “unnatural” in order to recover compensation on behalf of the injured party. This ruling represents a huge victory for victims of defective premises involving the failure of a property owner (including commercial property owners – such as store owners and mall operators) to maintain their premises free of dangerous conditions such as snow or ice which are likely to result in serious injury to visitors.
In rejecting the former “natural” vs. “unnatural” distinction over which lawyers battled endlessly before judges and juries, Justice Ralph Gants, who authored the decision for the unanimous Court wrote:
“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,’”
In simple terms, the Court removed the burden upon the plaintiff of proving that the snow or ice was an unnatural accumulation, and substituted the standard of “reasonableness” on the part of the defendant property owner as of the basis for liability. As Justice Gant went on to write:
“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.”
In determining the liability of a property owner for injuries caused by the defective condition of snow or ice, attorneys representing injured persons will be required to prove that the defendant’s failure to remove the snow or ice which caused the plaintiff’s injuries, was “unreasonable” given the risk of injury to those visiting premises if the defective condition was left in corrected. The standard of “reasonableness” is – as the Court emphasized – the prevailing standard for most other claims involving premises defects giving rise to injuries. In the Papadopoulos case, the Court simply extended that same standard to snow and ice-related claims.
For more than thirty years, PARKER SCHEER attorneys have represented scores of adults and children seriously injured as a result of snow and ice-related conditions. If you or someone you know has suffered serious injury or death as a result of a slip and fall on snow and ice in Massachusetts, call us at 886-414-0400. There is never a charge to meet and to discuss a potential case.
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About Attorney Eric J. Parker
Eric J. Parker is the Managing Partner and co-founder of the Boston-based trial firm Parker Scheer LLP, with offices in Massachusetts and Nevada. Mr. Parker has 20 years of active experience as one of Massachusetts’ leading civil trial lawyers and holds the highest peer-review rating awarded to any attorney for professional skill and ethics. Mr. Parker is a member of the American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America), as well as the American, Massachusetts, and Boston Bar Associations. Mr. Parker is an elected member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA; Elected Vice President, Massachusetts Chapter, January 2007), and is a certified member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. In 2007, Mr. Parker was appointed to the Editorial Board of Massachusetts Lawyer Weekly, the leading weekly legal newspaper serving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Mr. Parker has been named a Massachusetts Super Lawyer by the publishers of Boston Magazine, every year since the distinction was first created. Mr. Parker’s legal practice focuses on plaintiff-oriented tort litigation, including product liability, motor vehicle tort, medical and dental malpractice, premises liability claims, workplace sexual harassment and assault, aviation-related injuries, and wrongful death. Mr. Parker is a graduate of Vassar College and received his Juris Doctor degree from Suffolk University Law School. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Parker is also an FAA Certified Private Pilot, and was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the Media And Technology Charter High School (MATCH) located in Boston (Chairman 2001-2005), the goal of which is to provide inner-city high school students with a successful college education.