Property owners owe a duty to exercise reasonable care regarding the safety of people who come onto their property. Traditionally, these people were known as either social guests or as licensees. Social guests are individuals who are specifically invited while a licensee is someone an owner impliedly consented to being on the property such as a fireperson, meter reader or deliveryman. Of course, no one wants anyone to suffer an injury while on their property, but what happens if a deliveryman slips and falls on the premises of a private owner?

Nowadays, the status of the person who comes onto property is not important since Massachusetts law requires that any landowner exercise reasonable care in keeping their property safe from hazards or at least warning persons who come onto their property about any known hazards.

The Duty of Care

Homeowners as well as apartment owners owe a duty of care to tenants, guests and deliverymen and, in some cases, even trespassers. This means that the owner is responsible for repairing or removing any dangerous conditions or to at least warn tenants, guests and persons like deliverymen to be aware of unreasonably dangerous hazards that exist on the land or in the house if known to exist or that have been present long enough to infer notice.

There are two types of notice in determining knowledge of a condition. Actual notice means that you directly observed the hazard or someone advised you of its existence. The other is constructive notice or that the dangerous condition existed for a sufficiently long enough time so that you should have known or been aware of it.

This does not mean you have to periodically check or inspect your property for hazards unless you are a retail or commercial business owner, but it does impose a duty on private property owners to exercise reasonable care in keeping the residence and property safe. For apartment building owners, this includes keeping common areas safe.

Examples of Liability of Private Property Owners

In a New York case, a mailman walking on a wooden pathway located on a private walkway slipped and fell on moss that had grown on the planks because of moisture from rainfalls. The mailman suffered severe fractures of his foot and leg and eventually had to retire and collect disability benefits before settling for $300,000. The homeowner’s liability did not emanate from a duty to inspect but from constructive notice of the hazard. Having a wooden walkway exposed to rain and moisture will result in moss if not warping of the wood, which creates an unreasonably dangerous condition to anyone walking on it. Moss does not grow overnight but the homeowner should have been aware in the exercise of reasonable care that moss does grow on wood from exposure to moisture and that moss is a slippery substance. The liability of the homeowners may have been even more evident if they had lived there for many years and had observed the moss before on the wooden pathway following a rainstorm or other precipitation.

Another example is your duty to clear certain areas of the property from snow and ice. Many towns have ordinances requiring homeowners, apartment or retail business owners to clear snow from sidewalks abutting their property within a certain time after a storm. In New York City, there is just such an ordinance requiring homeowners to clear snow 4 hours after a storm has stopped or by 11 am if the storm occurred overnight. If you fail to do so, you could be liable for civil fines. It is also evidence of liability if someone slips and falls and sustains an injury.

Massachusetts law, while not so specific, still requires private property owners to remove a dangerous condition, such as snow and ice, within a reasonable time since they are presumed to have notice of the condition at some point after a snow accumulation or precipitation and to do so effectively. For instance, if a landowner does take action to remove snow or ice but a deliveryman or other person slips and falls, they may still be held culpable depending on what they did to remove the hazard. For instance, did they use salt or ice remover or just shovel the walkway half-heartedly and left icy patches in certain areas? This is usually a question of fact for a jury to decide but it all comes down to whether the property owner breached his duty to exercise reasonable care in removing an unreasonably dangerous condition. This is an issue a Boston premises liability lawyer can advise you on if you suffered injuries under similar circumstances.

Consult the Tetzel Law Firm

Paul Tetzel is a Boston premises liability lawyer who handles complex cases of liability and damages for persons injured by the negligence of others. If you have any concerns about your injury or a loved one’s was injuries that occurred at someone’s home or property, contact Tetzel Law for a free analysis of your injury claim.