Articles Tagged with slip and fall

Winter in New England, a right of passage we all endure every year. No one can claim to be a real New Englander without going through a handful of winters full of blizzards, wind, and freezing temperatures. Cleaning off your car, shoveling the sidewalks and stairs, and salting or sanding the ice are all tenets of our yearly winter ritual. While many of us are used to the cold, snow, and ice, it is important to know what happens when those conditions result in an injury. In the first part of a two-part series, we will discuss what duty you owe as a property owner to others entering your property and what happens in the event someone is injured as a result of a fall on snow or ice. 

Under Massachusetts law, all property owners (commercial and residential) and landlords are legally responsible for snow and ice removal from their property. While each town and city has its own specific codes (and we encourage you to take a look at your city or town’s requirements), it is important to know the state law establishing this minimum. This means that any publicly-accessible areas, e.g., sidewalks or walkways, driveways, parking lots, etc., must be free of snow and “de-iced.”

This is a relatively new law, coming into effect on the heels of a 2010 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) ruling that overturned 125 years of precedent of unnatural vs. natural snow accumulation. The arcane distinction aside, the takeaway is that the SJC prioritized safety of guests and visitors. (That case was Papadopoulos v. Target Corp, which dragged snow and ice law into the 21st century. It got rid of the rule that a “natural accumulation” of snow means that a property owner wasn’t responsible for someone’s injury.). 

The Commonwealth’s top court, the Supreme Judicial Court, gave landlords a bit of a break recently in Goreham v. Martins, 485 Mass. 54, (2020).  The decision involves the “warranty of habitability” and the ways for tenants to recover for personal injuries sustained on their rented premises, including cases for people who slip and fall on snow and ice.

By way of background, an injured person has a claim “in tort”, that is, that someone’s negligence caused the injury.  There are circumstances, however, when the remedy is contract or semi-contract based.  For example, there is a “warranty of merchantability” attached to products.  They have to be fit for the purpose intended.  A table saw that does not have a guard, for example, can be found not to have met the warranty of merchantability, and resultant injuries can be compensable under a breach of warranty theory.  

Similarly, the warranty of habitability assures that a rented property is fit for human occupation.  If a ceiling falls on your head, you have a claim for breach of the warranty of habitability even though the landlord lacked notice of the hazard thereby making a negligence claim very difficult.

Contact Information