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Snow and Ice Liability in Massachusetts

Erica Pereira With the recent extreme snowfall in the Northeast, many people have “broken their backs” shoveling and plowing out the streets, driveways, walkways, and stairs to get out of their houses and get to work and school. With the drop in temperatures, that shoveling that we have done could turn our driveways and walkways into a patch of ice, causing a dangerous condition for anyone who comes onto our property. As homeowners in New England we all know of our need to shovel and salt our driveways so our families and friends don’t slip or get injured but sometimes we don’t consider all the other people who come onto our property who also need to be protected.

Under Massachusetts law and specifically the case of Papadopoulos v. Target Corp, 457 Mass.368 (2010) changed the standard of care for snow and ice cases to one of reasonable care. This means that in the event of a snow and ice event, the duty of the homeowner, landowner or premise owner is that they have a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect invited people on their property from unsafe conditions and foreseeable hazards. In other words, if you own a home and it snows, you have a duty to shovel and care for your property (lay down salt or ice melt in the event of ice) in such a way to assure that people who come onto your property will be safe. This could be the mailman, UPS driver, service people, friends or your family. The standard of reasonableness is dependent on each situation and it is your obligation to use good judgment in determining whether your property is safe.

The same standard applies to businesses as well. Businesses are obligated to take reasonable care of their property and premises so that invited business guests and patrons will be protected from unsafe conditions. The general belief is that if it has snowed and your business is open, you better make sure that you have adequately salted your parking lot or walkways and shoveled and plowed the snow so that your guests, patrons and workers will be safe.

Most important, with all this snow, take care to protect yourselves while shoveling and while travelling in the wintery conditions so you can prevent injuries or illnesses caused by the bitter cold. The winter can be a fun time with skiing, sledding and ice skating but it is on each and every one of us to stay safe and warm this winter and assure that we do our best to prevent foreseeable accidents from happening. If you have any questions, our attorneys at KECHES LAW GROUP, P.C. are very experienced in the laws regarding snow and ice and are available to talk to you. I wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year.