With the winter of 2013 on the horizon, snowy weather is soon to come. Although many in Massachusetts rejoice the coming of the season, the weather can bring many mishaps as snow and ice cover the sidewalks. Such conditions are ripe for slip-and-fall accidents, which can often result in broken hips, legs and arms. Who is responsible for such injuries when they happen?
Under the premises liability law of Massachusetts, it is the property owner, whether it is an individual, company or municipality. In Massachusetts, like other states, property owners have the legal duty to make the premises reasonably safe for others who are on the property. If the owner fails to do this, he or she can be held liable for damages-medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering-that arise because of the failure.
Snow and ice
The same general duty imposed by premises liability law is applicable to the removal of snow and ice. However, this was not always the case. Prior to July 2010, property owners were only liable if other persons were injured due to an "unnatural accumulation" of snow or ice. Under the law existing at that time, this meant that the snow or ice was put in place by artificial (or man-made) means, such as a leaky gutter causing a pool of ice that would not otherwise exist. Because of this rule, property owners could escape liability by leaving the snow or ice undisturbed on their properties, which often created hazardous results.
However, in July 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court abolished the "unnatural accumulation" rule. Instead, the court adopted a rule that said that property owners have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition with regard to snow and ice, regardless of whether or not it was a natural accumulation.
As a result of the ruling, owners must clear their properties (including sidewalks) of snow and ice once it has developed, in order to meet their duties to keep their properties "reasonably safe." In addition to removing the snow, property owners must periodically check their properties to ensure that ice has not developed because of the thawing of the snow.
What to do if you are injured
Injuries from falls on snow and ice can cause medical conditions that do not initially appear to be serious (e.g. fractures or traumatic brain injuries). It is therefore important to seek medical treatment immediately. If possible, it is also a good idea to photograph the place where you fell by taking a photo with your cellphone camera. Otherwise, return to photograph the scene as soon as possible. Photographs are powerful evidence when proving that the property conditions were unreasonably dangerous.
As notice must be given to the property owner within 30 days of your injury, it is important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Failure to give notice can seriously hinder your right of recovery. An attorney can advise you of your claim and work to ensure that the property owner is held accountable for the unsafe condition.