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What is the Law in Massachusetts Concerning a Snow and Ice Accident?

Let It Snow, But Don’t Forget to Salt…

People across the country are experiencing excessive amounts of snow and very cold temperatures. That weather has certainly come to the Northeast. Not surprisingly, I have fielded more than a few calls from people who have fallen. Some have experienced very serious injuries. In the past, I have blogged about Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. 2, 457 Mass. 368 (2010). That decision has been widely applauded by attorneys who represent victims because the court finally put to rest the need to prove an unnatural accumulation of snow or ice. Rather, traditional tort principles are governing the liability of a landowner, specifically looking into whether he/she/it employed reasonable care in treating the existing snow and ice. Without delving into an excessive discussion of what was required in the pre-Papadopolous days, rest assured that we are now phrasing the issues in a more familiar, and straightforward, way.

The defense attorneys are saying that Papadopoulos has not changed much; that plaintiffs must still prove a deviation from reasonable care. My response is that previously our job was doubly hard: we had to prove a deviation from reasonable care and an unnatural accumulation. One element of proof is certainly more preferable than two. How does your lawyer go about proving a deviation from reasonable care? As the Papadopolous court stated in favorably quoting from the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, “We believe that today a landlord, armed with an ample supply of salt, sand, scrapers, shovels and even perhaps a snowblower, can acquit himself quite admirably…” Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. 2, 457 Mass. 368, 370 (2010).

Most defendants will have access to the items listed above. That lends itself to an inquiry in a deposition or otherwise whether the defendant availed himself or herself of those remedies. I am finding that the answer is no, that the defendant did not take these precautions leading to the often very serious injuries which can occur in these falls. Certainly, if some defect in the land existed– and this harkens back to the issues that were raised pre-Papadopoulos— then it is worthy of bringing that fact out as well. Nothing in the new framework precludes a careful attorney from focusing on dripping water caused by a downspout, a leaky gutter or a depression on the land which may lead to an icy condition. If those issues are known to the owner, it makes a liability determination easier. Those are the kinds of things that personal injury attorneys would look for in establishing a case. They remain helpful. As to the doing away with the unnatural accumulation requirement, when the state legislature contemplated changing or modifying that rule it led to an outcry in some circles. It is hard for those same circles to now say that the law is ever harsh; at least with respect to snow and ice, it is not.

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