Property owners of any status—private, public or commercial–have a duty of care to others when it comes to shoveling sidewalks after a snow accumulation. Before 2010, Massachusetts property owners were not liable to anyone who fell on ice or snow from their failure to shovel off the area or clear the ice for natural accumulations of snow. Liability only attached for unnatural accumulations such as a burst water pipe that poured water onto a sidewalk and then froze, making it treacherous to walk on. Another example of unnatural accumulation is a third party who moved snow onto the owner’s property.

Currently, any dangerous condition that exists on a sidewalk controlled by a property owner needs to be removed, regardless if it was natural or unnatural. Even if the sidewalk is owned by the municipality, city ordinances generally require private and business persons who own property that abut a sidewalk to clear that area of snow and ice. The duty of care is one that is expected of a property owner exercising ordinary care. In the case of snow and ice accumulation, you would expect the owner or an agent of the owner to shovel a walkway at a reasonable time after the storm ceases and to remove icy patches as soon as practicable.

Premises Liability Law

A slip and fall on anyone’s property is part of premises liability law. The duty to use reasonable care to keep property or walkways under the owner’s control safe from hazards arises as a result of notice to the owner. If the owner directly observes the hazard or is advised of it, it is direct notice. Otherwise, the owner may have indirect or constructive notice of a hazard if it was present long enough so that the owner in the exercise of ordinary care should have become aware of it. Once notice is imputed, then the property owner must take steps to remove the danger or to adequately warn of its presence.

For other hazards, commercial business owners have long been held to have a higher duty to patrons or those lawfully on their property to inspect it for unreasonably dangerous conditions and to immediately remove the danger or adequately warn those on the property.

Regarding snow and ice accumulation on a sidewalk, the owner should reasonably expect snow to accumulate on the property during a snowstorm and ice to build up if the temperature drops below freezing and there has been rain, sleet or snow that preceded it or arrived while the temperature began to plummet. While a private owner may not necessarily have a duty to periodically inspect their property, they do have a responsibility to either remove known hazards or to warn of their existence. Notice may reasonably be presumed by the weather in this case.

Also, towns and cities across Massachusetts have their own ordinances that impose a duty on property owners to immediately or within a reasonable time remove snow and ice from adjoining sidewalks or face civil fines. Their failure to adhere to a local ordinance can also be evidence of negligence.

Proving Liability

To prove liability, you must either have a witness to your fall or a photograph of the exact area where you slipped and fell. If it was snow or ice, you have to show that the area where you fell was under the control or ownership of the defendant. A photograph or independent eyewitness observation of the area can establish that there was ice or snow and that it was slippery. Weather records can show that there was snowfall during a particular time or that the temperature was below freezing at the moment in time when the incident occurred and for a time preceding the incident. This can show at least constructive notice to the landowner of the hazard and that the owner did not act to clear the danger within a reasonable time. These are matters that an experienced Boston premises liability lawyer can handle in demonstrating fault.

Injuries from a Sip and Falls

Slip and fall injuries can cause minor sprains to strains to more serious injuries that can be catastrophic. Broken limbs and pelvis injuries can require extensive surgery or surgeries and extended time away from work leading to financial calamity as well as permanent disabilities that can prevent you from returning to work at all. Traumatic brain injuries, internal injuries and damage to the spinal cord are not uncommon injuries that can occur depending on how you fell as well as your age and physical condition.

Call the Tetzel Law Firm

Premises liability cases are notorious for their difficulty in settling. Insurers for businesses and homeowners are typically skeptical of slip and fall cases and will try to blame the victims for their own carelessness in many of these cases. With competent representation from a highly knowledgeable Boston premises liability lawyer from the Tetzel Law Firm, your opportunity to collect damages for medical expenses, lost earnings, lost earning capacity, permanent disability and pain and suffering are greatly enhanced. Call the Tetzel Law Firm today for a free consultation about your injury claim.