Slip and fall cases are one of the first scenarios the general public thinks about when they think of a lawsuit. A person walks into a business and slips on a patch of ice in the parking lot and is hurt on impact.
However, we always stress to our clients that the liable party in a case is not always obvious. There may be multiple potential defendants that could be involved, such as the business where the injury occurred, the owner of the property, or the snow removal company that failed to clear away the ice.
There is some good news for people who were hurt in a wintertime slip and fall in Massachusetts: The laws got friendly to plaintiffs a few years ago and businesses can no longer get away with not touching snow on their property.
Massachusetts used to give property owners a pass for not clearing snow and ice on their property. They would hold businesses liable if the snow and ice had been disturbed, such as with footprints, tire tracks or shovel marks, but anyone who stepped on virgin snow did so at their own risk. This was called “natural accumulation.”
In 2010 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court threw out the natural accumulation rule in the case Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. were a customer of the Target retail store in Danvers fell on a chunk of ice that was near his car. The court opinion stated:
“It is not reasonable for a property owner to leave snow or ice on a walkway where it is reasonable to expect that a hardy New England visitor would choose to risk crossing the snow or ice rather than turn back or attempt an equally or more perilous walk around it.”
Because of that ruling, businesses in Massachusetts are now required to keep the walkways and parking lots around their locations clear of snow and ice for the safety of the public.