Massachusetts Snow and Ice Removal Law
In July 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court abolished the long-standing law regarding liability for injuries caused by slips-and-falls on snow or ice.
Previously, property owners could only be held accountable for clearing walkways of unnatural or man-made accumulations of snow. If property owners did not clear the unnatural accumulation, and a passerby slipped-and-fell, the owner could be held responsible for medical bills and other personal injury damages.
The law has been changed to address criticism that property owners should be responsible for clearing both natural and unnatural accumulation of snow and ice during Massachusetts winters.
Emmanuel Papadopoulos filed a claim against Target Corp. and the landscapers responsible for snow removal, Weiss Landscaping Company, after falling on some ice near his handicapped parking spot in the Danvers Target parking lot in December of 2002. The parking lot had been plowed and a pile of snow had been pushed onto a median strip next to the handicap parking space.
The patch of ice that resulted in the injury was either a chunk that had fallen from the pile or runoff from the pile that had frozen. Both of these scenarios were considered a natural accumulation and, under the existing law in Massachusetts at the time of the injury, it was not the responsibility of the property owner to clear the natural accumulation.
Critics of the distinction of accumulation strongly argued the law was outdated, inconsistent and incites property owners to neglect their walkways. The distinction became Massachusetts law in an 1883 Salem ruling.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that property owners will be responsible for clearing all snow and ice, both natural and unnatural accumulations, from walkways in a reasonable amount of time. Now a jury will decide “what snow and ice removal efforts are reasonable in light of the expense they impose on the landowner and the probability and seriousness of the foreseeable harm to others.”
“We now will apply to hazards arising from snow and ice the same obligation that a property owner owes to lawful visitors as to all other hazards: a duty to ‘act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probable seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk,'” reads the unanimous ruling.
The new law will apply retroactively to pending cases where injuries were sustained from ice or snow falls. Papadopoulos’ case was sent back to a lower court to reconsider its ruling based on the new law that abolishes the distinction between natural and unnatural snow and ice accumulation.