Snow Removal In Massachusetts - Owners' Reasonable Care
“Reasonable Care” now appears to be the requirement in MA.
Massachusetts property owners have a what lawyers call "a duty" or responsibility to use “reasonable care” for the protection of visitors. That would appear to make homeowners responsible for the removal of snow and ice from their property. That means for visitors, delivery people, family, friends, etc., need to be able to access and passages after the owner has used "reasonable care" to clear them.
There was a court case that appears to have changed the way courts see snow removal in 2010. I'm not a lawyer, but it has been reported that prior to the SJC ruling in Papadopoulos v. Target Corp in July 2010, property owners would only be held liable for injuries resulting from “unnatural accumulation” of snow. So, if an owner chose not to clear snow and ice from the sidewalk or parking lot, that choice was used as a valid defense that the injury was caused by nature, which is to say by a natural accumulation of snow and ice, rather than by the negligence of the owner.
The Papadopoulos case seems to have changed the old rule so that the duty of property owners to remove snow and ice from their property is now greater. Some of the information from the case is as follows: In December 2002, Papadopoulos slipped and fell on a patch of ice in a Target parking lot, which had been plowed almost clearly, with much of the snow moved to the medians. He slipped on a piece of ice that had frozen to the pavement. The ice had either fallen from the snow piled on the median or had formed when snow melted and ran off the pile and then refroze to the pavement of the parking lot. Papadopoulos sued both Target and the snow removal company.
It appears that the MA Superior Court held that the ice had been a “natural accumulation,” and then as a matter of Massachusetts law, barred Papadopoulos from prevailing on the negligence claims. However, when the case was appealed, the MA Supreme Judicial Court eliminated the “natural accumulation” defense. This allowed Papadopoulos to succeed in the claim that the property owner failed to use reasonable care, and that failure to use reasonable care caused Papadopoulos to fall and get injured.
There were a lot of other questions and details that were not clearly covered in this decision. So, whether the property is a single-family home, apartment building, or shopping area, each case will depend on its own facts to determine whether the owner acted reasonably. The definition of reasonable care is one key for owners to ask a lawyer about.
Lots of new things may come as a result of this case including owners erring on the cautious and careful approach. For example, it has been suggested that if complete clearing is not possible, posting warning signs may be appropriate. Clients that have speciﬁc questions regarding their duty to take, and prove, reasonable care to clear snow should consult with their own attorney.
Merry Winter. Happy Snow. Let's be careful out there.