Winter-Weather Injury Risks and Accident Liability in Boston

Failure to clear ice and snow from your property may result in liability if someone falls or is otherwise injured this winter.

Many property and business owners may still be under the impression that Massachusetts law does not hold them accountable for injuries resulting from failure to remove ice and snow from sidewalks, parking lots or other locations on their property. However, a landmark 2010 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., changed Massachusetts snow-removal law for the first time in more than a century.

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The ruling rejected long-held common law, which generally held property owners were not responsible for injuries created by naturally accumulated ice and snow. In the court’s opinion, Justice Ralph Gants wrote 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.’’

These are complex cases involve state law, and municipal ordinances and are best handled by an experienced Boston injury lawyer. Additionally, the law makes a distinction between naturally accumulated snow and ice and dangerous conditions that contribute to winter-weather risks.

While there is no set mandate regarding how quickly snow and ice must be removed under state law, many communities have passed snow-removal ordinances that include time limits. In most cases, liability extends to public sidewalks in front of a business or residence.

For example:

  • City of Boston gives business just three hours. Residents are given six hours.
  • Worcester’s ordinance states removal must occur within 12 hours.

 

Snow Removal Liability and Ordinances in Massachusetts

Boston injury lawyers can best help determine your rights. Because liability exists under state law, a local ordinance may augment a property owner’s requirements but lack of a local ordinance will not negate responsibility for removing accumulated ice and snow under state law. Additionally, municipalities and other government agencies enjoy some protection from legal liability resulting from injuries, but those protections are not absolute and a claim against a city, county or other municipality may proceed under some circumstances.

In most cases, the law holds landlords responsible, even if a lease requires a tenant to remove accumulated ice or snow. The Boston Globe has published a list of ordinances in the commonwealth, which include:

  • Amherst: 24 hours for businesses and homeowners.
  • Arlington: 3 hours for businesses and homeowners during the day/8 hours for night snowfall.
  • Cambridge: 6-12 hours for residences and businesses.
  • East Bridgewater: No requirements.
  • Fall River: Immediately following snowfall.
  • Framingham: No ordinance.
  • Lowell: By 1 p.m. day following snowfall for businesses and residences.
  • Marlborough: 12 hours after snowfall for businesses and residences.
  • Needham: Requirements for businesses but not homeowners.
  • Newton: 30 hours for businesses and residences.
  • Quincy: Responsibilities for business owners but not homeowners.
  • Stoughton: No requirements for businesses or residences.
  • Waltham: Limited responsibility for homeowners and business owners.

Winter-Weather Injury Claims in Boston

As you can see by this sampling of local ordinances, the laws regarding snow removal are quite complex in Massachusetts. However, in most cases the law seeks to hold a property owner — whether residential or commercial — responsible in most cases for removing the natural accumulation of ice and snow. In other cases, guests or passing pedestrians are injured by the unnatural accumulation of ice or snow, which can range from large piles of accumulated snow obstructing roadside or parking-lot views, to accumulated ice caused by downspouts or other water runoff. These dangerous conditions are not any different from other premises liability claims under Massachusetts law, which generally assert a property owner knew (or should have known) about a dangerous condition and failed to remedy it, resulting in plaintiff injury.

Standard homeowners insurance policies and commercial general liability policies typically cover property owners if injuries occur due to ice or snow. Property owners should make sure their policies include such coverage and should seek liability coverage limits of at least $500,000 or $1 million. Other snow-removal laws include:

  • MGL c. 40, § 21 (2), (3), and (4) allows towns to create their own bylaws regarding ice and snow removal.
  • MGL c. 84, § 21 requires those making claims against a municipality to notify the county, city or municipality of injury or damage resulting from snow or ice within 30 days of an incident.

The City of Boston also warns property owners not to create hazards by removing ice or snow. It is illegal to push ice or snow into the street, and doing so can result in a fine and increase property owner liability in the event an injury accident. Property owners must also use salt, sand, sawdust or other material to reduce the risk of slips and falls, even once accumulated snow is removed from a sidewalk, parking lot or other area of accumulation where pedestrians or motorists may visit. Boston Code of Ordinances 16-12.16 contains addition information about the city’s snow-removal law.

Compensation for slip and fall accidents in Boston are typically pursued under Massachusetts premises liability laws. Elements for proving such claims include:

  • A property owner caused an unsafe condition and/or failed to warn about it once discovered.
  • That property owner knew or should have known about the danger and failed to take corrective action to remedy it.
  • Property owner’s actions (or inaction) resulted in plaintiff injury.
  • Victim (plaintiff) suffered compensable injury as a result.

Careful documentation is critical in these cases because property owners typically take immediate corrective action following an injury incident. Pictures, video footage, and the names and contact information of witnesses can be critical to establishing your case for damages. Weather is transient by nature and dangerous conditions typically disappear within a short amount of time. Contacting an experienced personal injury law firm in Boston can best allow you to document the dangerous conditions, as well as the extent of your injuries. Your injury attorney should also carefully review your case to identify all responsible parties, which may include a business owner, property owner, municipality, or other entity wholly or partially responsible for the dangerous property conditions.

If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.