Massachusetts property owners have duty to remove snow and ice

Sidewalk accidents are common in Boston, especially during the winter time. Under state law, property owners are responsible for maintaining safe premises, including removing dangerous snow and ice, regardless of how it accumulates.

But it wasn’t always like this. Under an old law known as the “natural accumulation rule” Massachusetts property owners were protected from liability in cases where people were injured due to snow or ice that accumulated naturally. In return, pedestrians traveled the sidewalks and streets at their own risk.

Then, in July 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court got rid of this rule and made a new one that holds property owners responsible for injuries that occur on their property due to snow and ice, regardless of how it got there.

The decision came from the case Papadopoulas v. Target Corporation, which refuted the longstanding idea that Massachusetts residents know the dangers snow and ice create, therefore should be held responsible for their own accidents.

Instead, the Court ruled that “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.'”

In other words, if a big snow storm ever decides to grace New England with its presence, property owners better remember to get out their shovels and salt or they could face liability if someone is injured on their property.

Source: Attleboro Patch, “If Winter Comes, Shoveling Can’t be Far Behind,” Paul Izzo, Jan. 4, 2012