It’s Slip and Fall Season in Massachusetts

slip-and-fall-liabilitySlip and fall liability can wreck a Massachusetts winter faster than a two-foot snowfall. Roads and sidewalks coated in snow and ice present real risks of injury and death, such as the fatal Mission Hill car accident that killed a pedestrian during a snowstorm on January 7.

If you own a home or business in Massachusetts, it is your responsibility to keep walkways and driveways clear. This is more than good citizenship, as the law requires you to remove snow and ice and past behavior can put you at risk of serious liability if someone gets hurt or killed on your property.

Under Massachusetts law, all property owners are expected to make a reasonable effort to remove ice and snow. The exact definition of “reasonable effort” varies from community to community; for example, the City of Boston requires sidewalks to be clear of snow and ice within three hours of the end of a storm, while some cities and towns may allow six hours for snow removal. It’s a good idea to check with local officials at the start of winter to find out what rules apply in your area.

Failure to keep walkways and driveways safe can expose you to liability, and business and homeowner’s insurance may not protect you. In the event of an accident, local safety officials and personal injury attorneys will investigate the circumstances that led to the accident. If you have a history of leaving parking lots unplowed or walkways icy, you may fail to meet the standard of a reasonable effort. Under these circumstances, homeowner’s and business insurance may not cover claims against you, leaving you to pay damages out of pocket.

A history of slip and falls, sidewalks that are never shoveled and a failure to use salt can all expose you to personal liability if they are chronic problems.

Here are some additional things to know to keep your visitors safe from falls and yourself safe from liability.

Homeowners

What happens if someone falls during a storm?

If your mailman, a visitor or a family member slips and falls at the height of a storm, you generally will not be held liable, as people who choose to visit your property during a storm accept some personal liability for their actions. Different rules may apply if you specifically invite someone to your home while conditions are dangerous.

Who is responsible for my sidewalk?

Municipalities govern whether you have to clear the sidewalk adjacent to your house. If you do not, you may be ticketed and proof that you violated the ordinance may be used to build a negligence case against you. Best practice is to remove the snow and salt the sidewalk that corresponds to your home while you clear the rest of your property. If you shovel or blow snow onto a public sidewalk after your city or town has cleared it, you may be liable for any slip and fall accidents. Never move snow into areas that have been cleared by public officials.

If you live in a rental unit, the landlord is generally responsible for snow removal. Landlords can delegate this responsibility to tenants under certain circumstances. Tenants have limited options to seek damages for slip and fall injuries as long as landlords make a reasonable effort to remove snow from driveways, parking lots and walkways within the rules established by a given city or town. For example, tenants in Boston would have limited opportunities to seek damages for an injury as long as landlords remove snow within three hours of the end of a storm.

If you live in a condominium or townhouse, the rules established by your condo association will apply. You may be responsible for snow removal on walkways into and out of your residence, while the association may be responsible for driveways and parking lots.

What defines a reasonable effort of snow removal?

All areas should be free of snow and ice within a certain time after a storm ends. Any ice buildup caused by melting and refreezing must be treated.

Business Owners

What happens if someone falls during a storm?

If your business is open to the general public and operating during a storm, you can incur liability for slips and falls both inside and outside of your establishment. The standard is higher for business owners, so you need to make sure entrances are free of ice and snow during the storm and that steps are taken to reduce the risk of slips and falls on wet floors. If conditions make it impossible to keep floors and entrance ways safe during a heavy storm, consider closing the doors.

Who is responsible for my sidewalk?

In some cases, you may be responsible for access to a certain distance from all entrances, particularly if you operate a restaurant or other business with outside seating, sales areas or landscape features. To stay on the safe side, and to provide a welcoming environment for your customers, it’s a good idea to clear the sidewalk in front of your establishment to the curb. Never move snow into areas that have been cleared by public officials, as this could leave you open to liability.

What defines a reasonable effort of snow removal?

All entrances and access ways should be free of snow and ice to the extent possible during a storm, and completely clear of snow and ice as soon as possible after a storm.

Be aware that your liability continues past your front door. Slippery areas inside doorways and in areas accessible to the public should be covered with mats or other non-slip materials. Signage warning the public about wet floors can also be used, but signage alone does not protect you from liability. You need to make a reasonable effort to keep floors dry.

The team of Boston personal injury lawyers at Sheff Law has extensive experience in slip and fall liability cases. We provide free consultations to anyone who has been hurt in a fall at a business or private residence. Contact us online or call us at 1-888-423-4477 for more information.

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