Home > Property & Casualty > Snow removal vital in preventing slip and fall case liablity

Snow removal vital in preventing slip and fall case liablity

snow_ice02In addition to worrying about potential storm damages from this season’s record snowfall, New England property owners need to be aware of a recent decision in Massachusetts case law which changes the way that courts look at weather-related slip and fall incidents.

For many years, Massachusetts courts based decisions surrounding slip and fall accidents in regards to whether the cause of the fall was due to natural accumulation of snow and ice. In basic terms, if the property owner took precautions to remove snow in a reasonable manner, then the law would find in their favor.

However, a ruling in the Massachusetts case of Emanuel Papadopouls vs. Target Corporation et al, SJC-10529 (July, 2010) changed the way slip and falls on snow and ice are handled within the Commonwealth and creating additional liability challenges for property owners. The case involved an elderly gentleman from Peabody who was leaving a Target store in Danvers, Massachusetts when he fell and suffered a fractured pelvis. The man later sued Target and their plowing contractor. The case was dismissed in the district court, ruling that the patch of ice that formed was a natural occurrence. Upon appeal however, the Super Judicial Court overturned the verdict, finding that all property owners have a duty to keep their areas reasonably safe. This verdict eradicated the distinction between natural vs. unnatural accumulation of snow and ice.

This decision in this case aligns with the negligence ruling in most other states for slip and fall types of accidents. In many cases, a property owner can shift the potential for liability by hiring an outside contractor to perform plowing and sanding services and/or through the use of a strong contract for these services with indemnification and hold-harmless language written in favor of the property owner.

The failure to properly remove snow and ice from a residential or commercial property can also result in fines. (On January 30, 2015, following record snowfall in Boston, John Kerry was fined $50.00 for failure to shovel the sidewalk in front of his Beacon Hill residence). The City of Boston has strict regulations which require the removal of snow, slush and ice from sidewalks and curb ramps abutting your property within three hours of snowfall ending (or 3 hours from sunrise if the snow falls during the night). Fines for failure to comply with this regulation can be anywhere from $200 per cubic yard/per day on commercial property to $100-$150 per cubic yard/per day on residential property. Each city and town within the Commonwealth has their own regulations and statutes governing the removal of snow, so it is best to consult your local authorities for further clarification.

About the Author

Holly Woods is a Claims Consultant at WGA in the Property and Casualty Department. She is responsible for handling and reporting client claims, serving as both a resource and advocate for clients and helping them understand the claims process.

617.646.0388| HWoods@wgains.com | Connect with Holly on LinkedIn.

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