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How Can the Weather Affect a Snow-And-Ice Case?

As we have mentioned in prior blogs, following Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. 457 Mass. 368 (2010), the standard of care of a landowner for a slip and fall accident on snow and ice changed from having to show an artificial or unnatural accumulation of ice to whether the landlord acted reasonably in relation to the threat of harm posed by the snow and/or ice condition. The focus is on the conduct of the defendant who is obligated to use reasonable care in treating the condition that led to the fall. This is consistent with the standard in premises liability cases generally. The Supreme Judicial Court was clear that such a focus is now the appropriate one for snow and ice cases.

How do we prove lack of reasonable care you might ask? Several factors come into play. For one, we will need to establish the condition of the surface area where the fall occurred at the time of the accident. Weather records help significantly in this regard because we can then show the climatic conditions at the time of the fall. Your attorney must also inquire into the conditions in the days and hours prior to the fall. This will provide some insight as to whether the landowner acted reasonably. For example, if a snowstorm was ongoing at the time of a plaintiff’s fall, it is more difficult to show that the landowner failed to act reasonably. Quite simply, there was not sufficient time for the landowner to respond to the threat created by the storm. See Wexler v. Stanetsky Memorial Chapel, Inc., 2 Mass. App. Ct. 750 (1975). However, if several days passed without precipitation and then the client was hurt, the reasonableness of the landowner’s snow removal/ice treatment effort is certainly more questionable.

Another major factor in determining the reasonableness of the landowner’s actions can be the type of snow removal methods utilized by the landowner to clear the surface area in question of snow and ice. As referenced in Papadopoulos, a landowner should be able to equip themselves quite adequately with whatever they need to remove snow and ice. If the landowner hires a snow removal service to treat the area(s) in question with salt or sand then the failure of the snow removal company to treat the area properly should create an additional defendant. Typically, multiple defendants help to bring about a successful recovery in negligence actions.

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