Litigating Slip-and-Fall Ice and Snow Cases in Boston

As we head into the winter months, the weather will turn colder and snow and ice will begin to accumulate on  streets, sidewalks, and parking lots across the Greater Boston area.  While this often creates a picturesque scene, we also see a major increase in the number of slip-and-fall accidents due to that ice and snow.  The main question is whether the adjacent property owner or leaseholder, or both, are liable for the plaintiff’s injuries in connection with these Boston snow and ice injury cases.

Popadopoulos v. Target Corporation

Boston personal injury lawyerPrior to the court’s decision in Popadopoulos v. Target Corporation, a landlord or lease holder was only potentially liable for injuries caused by accumulated snow and ice if the accumulation did not occur due to natural conditions.  For example, if a snowstorm brought several inches of snow to the area, many parking lots would be covered with snow.  This snow might melt partially during the day and then freeze over resulting in very icy conditions.  As our Boston slip-and-fall injury lawyers can explain, prior to the holding in Popadopoulos, if a person slipped on this ice and fell and that resulted in serious personal injury, the landlord or leaseholder would not be liable because this was a natural accumulation of snow and ice.

In Popadopoulos, however, the plaintiff suffered a personal injury after slipping and falling on a sheet of ice in front of the defendant’s big box store.  This occurred in a shopping mall in Danvers, Massachusetts. The trial court dismissed the case by granting a motion for summary judgement.

A motion for summary judgement is governed by Massachusetts Civil Procedure Rule 56,  which allows for a case to be dismissed when there is no genuine dispute of material fact when the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.  Essentially, the party filing a motion for summary judgement is saying that even if you believe everything the other party is alleging, they still can’t win the case.  In this case, the store management company said even if you believe the plaintiff slipped and fell on ice in front of our store, the law says we are not liable if the ice is a natural accumulation as is the case here.  The court agreed with this argument and dismissed the case.  On appeal, the court asked the parties to brief the issue of whether this exception to premises liability law involving snow and ice should still apply.

Boston Premises Liability Cases

In a standard premises case, one not involving snow and ice, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that a landowner owes a duty to use reasonable care to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition.  This was a holding in the 1970s that changed premises liability law in Massachusetts as compared to what it was, and still is, in most other states.

Under the old law, there were distinctions between the reason the plaintiff was on the property.  This involved an analysis of whether the plaintiff was a customer at a store, of a house guest for example. There was a different standard of care depending on why that person was on the property when injured. Now, as long as the person is not a trespasser, the landowner has only one duty and that is to act reasonably as it is the standard in most other Boston personal injury cases.

Natural vs Unnatural Accumulation of Snow and Ice

In Popadopoulos, the court reviewed the briefs submitted by both parties and ultimately decided the old distinction between natural and unnatural accumulation of snow and ice no longer made sense as an exception to the current standard of care in premises liability cases.  A landowner is in the position to make their own property reasonably safe with respect to snow and ice and therefore, the same standard of care should apply in all premises liability actions.

Typical Snow and Ice Fall Related Injuries

When someone slips on ice and falls, it can result in serious personal injury.  The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles data on injuries caused by ice, sleet and snow.  This data generally pertains to workplace accidents, but the same type of injuries typically occur in cases involving personal injury plaintiffs in Boston. Only including workplace injuries, there were over 42,000 injuries caused by snow, sleet and ice in a single year.

The follow are injuries typically suffered in these types of accidents:

  • Muscle Sprains
  • Ligament Strains
  • Open or Compound Fractures
  • Stable Fractures (hairline)
  • Broken ankles
  • Herniated spinal discs

These are all serious musculoskeletal disorders caused by falling onto a hard surface. While the degree of damage will vary from plaintiff to plaintiff, when it is an elderly victim with weaker bones, the damage is often far worse than we typically see with younger plaintiffs. It is not uncommon for an elderly person to suffer a broken hip after slipping on snow, sleet, or ice. People with osteoporosis, including but not limited to senior citizens, are more likely to suffer serious bone injuries, but these people being more susceptible to fractures due to their age, is not a factor that can be used as a defense should the Boston slip and fall injury case go to trial.

There is an old legal doctrine that requires the defendant to take the plaintiff as the defendant finds him or her.  This means that if a plaintiff has some type medical condition that makes injury more likely, the plaintiff is not is going to penalized for that fact.  This comes from a hypothetical example taught to all law students in regard to the eggshell skull theory.  In this example, the plaintiff has a medical condition that causes his head to be as thin as an eggshell.  When he is hit by the plaintiff, the defendant argues that a person with a normal skull would have not have been injured nearly as severely.  The court however, held that this is not the plaintiff’s problem as the defendant must take the plaintiff as he finds him.  To find otherwise would create a harsh and unfair result and this is not in accord with public policy.

If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers for a free and confidential appointment — (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

Papadopoulos v. Taget Corporation and Another, 457 Mass. 368, (2010).

More Blog Entries:
Pontoon Boat Operator Charged With Criminal Negligence in Boy’s Death, Feb. 16, 2017, Boston Ice Injury Lawyer Blog

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