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Property Owners’ Duty to Keep Sidewalks Clear of Snow and Ice

In Massachusetts, property owners have a legal obligation to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. This includes protecting the safety of pedestrians by keeping sidewalks and steps clear of snow and ice. Failure to do so may result in liability for injuries sustained by individuals due to the owner’s negligence. The duty to clear sidewalks extends to both residential and commercial properties.

Massachusetts once followed the “natural accumulation” rule, under which a property owner could not be held liable for accidents stemming solely from the build-up of ice and snow. But since the 2010 state Supreme Court decision in Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., Massachusetts has applied the duty of reasonable care to the maintenance of sidewalks and steps during and after winter storms. That duty of reasonable care is the same duty that applies to all premises owners and others who are in control of property. Since Papadopoulos, the defendants in personal injury suits need to have taken affirmative measures to remove ice and snow. The level of care expected can depend on such factors as the severity of the weather conditions, the time of day and the property’s location.

Key points regarding the duty of a Massachusetts property owner to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice include:

  • Timely clearing — Property owners must promptly remove accumulated snow and ice from their sidewalks following snowfall or freezing precipitation. The law does not set a specific timeframe, but it is generally expected that owners act promptly to maintain safe conditions. Owners do not have the option of waiting until the storm ends before treating ice and snow conditions.
  • Reasonable efforts — While property owners are not expected to guarantee absolutely ice-free sidewalks, they are required to make reasonable efforts to prevent and to remedy hazardous conditions. This may include salting, sanding or other appropriate measures to mitigate the risk of slips and falls.
  • Municipal regulations — Some municipalities in Massachusetts have specific ordinances or regulations regarding snow and ice removal. Property owners should be aware of local requirements and comply with any additional obligations imposed by their city or town.

Conduct is assessed according to differences in the types of property owners, i.e. single-family homeowners vs. large, commercial enterprises. The same reasonable care standard applies but what constitutes reasonable care will be fact specific. In any event, if an owner fails to fulfill its duty and someone is injured as a result, the owner may be held liable for negligence. The injured party may seek compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering and other losses.

Feinberg & Alban PC in Boston has years of experience assisting victims of slip and fall accidents throughout the Boston area, including Attleboro, Cambridge, Fall River and Taunton. To set up your free initial consultation, give us a call at 617-232-5950 or contact us online.

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