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A Duty of Reasonable Care on the Property

If you think of major cases in tort law, which includes personal injury law, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in the 1970s provided a wealth of evolving law. Their decisions were as epic in this field as the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in the 1960s when that court issued a whole host of rulings concerning criminal and constitutional law. Because this blog deals with the handling of personal injury cases, I will focus on the SJC in the 1970s. Recent blogs have concerned changes in the common law of torts brought by judicial decision. One of the biggest decisions was the case of Mounsey v. Ellard, 363 Mass. 693 (1973) where business invitees were eliminated as a separate category and a duty of reasonable care was imposed upon all those lawfully on the premises. With respect to trespassers, that distinction remained as land owners continued to owe them a duty only to refrain from willful, wanton, or reckless disregard. Prior to Mounsey, the focus would be on the status of the person on the land i.e. whether they were an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. In Mounsey, the Supreme Judicial Court abrogated the distinction between invitee and licensee and no longer expected a focus on the status of the person who was injured. I am not sure this abrogation was a pro-plaintiff decision, although it is generally thought to have been, but it certainly narrowed the legal issues.
Mounsey continues to be the leading case in this field (having recently been cited in the snow-and-ice Papadopoulos v. Target decision) almost four decades after it was decided.

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