Rake Your Leaves or Let Lawyers Rake in Settlements

Amid the beauty of autumn in Massachusetts comes some legal reality: You can be sued if someone slips and falls due to leaves on your property. While homeowners, retailers and commercial property owners are not expected to attack every stray leaf with a blower or rake, accumulations that lead to dangerous conditions could put you at risk of a lawsuit.

Massachusetts premises liability law is frequently cited when snow and ice cause injury, and in 2010 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court toughened up the rules on property owners when it rejected a long-standing common-law principle that accumulations of snow and ice were “natural,” and not the responsibility of a property owner. In Papadopoulos v. Target Corp, the Commonwealth’s highest court ruled that property owners were responsible for natural accumulations that presented a dangerous condition.

In following with the general rule of Massachusetts Liability Law, if a reasonable person would consider a natural accumulation of ice or snow dangerous, then it must be addressed, either by treatment or removal. While the specific case dealt with ice and snow, the broader implication is that any dangerous accumulation of material on a property puts the property owner at risk for legal liability.

Autumn leaves may not have the same reputation for causing chaos and injury as the region’s notorious ice, but they can present real risks to people who visit retail and residential properties. Here are some situations to consider and stay on top of during the fall to keep injuries and lawsuits at bay.

Stairway accumulations: Deep piles of leaves on stairs present a significant slipping hazard, even when the leaves are dry. Keep stairways clean throughout the autumn, even if it means sweeping them daily, and be aware that wet leaves can be as bad as ice when it comes to slips and falls.

Pathways and walkways: A path covered in fresh autumn leaves is lovely until someone steps in a hole and twists an ankle. Leaves collect in holes and divots and conceal them, creating a potential liability. Risk can be mitigated with signs that warn people of uneven surfaces, but the safest plan is to keep uneven and irregular surfaces free of fallen foliage.

Driveways: Wet leaves can cause skidding and accidents. Most driveways do not accumulate leaves on the main surface, but leaves can pile up on the edges. Keep these areas as clear as possible, and remove leaves immediately before any heavy rains.

The good news for property owners is over the fence. You are not responsible for slips and falls caused by leaves from your trees falling or blowing into a neighbor’s yard, though your neighbors do have the right to take steps to mitigate the amount of loose foliage they must manage, including the right to remove branches that reach across property lines.

Make regular leaf cleanup part of your autumn routine, and you’ll keep personal injury lawyers at bay. If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident involving leaves in Massachusetts, we encourage you to call us at 1-888-423-4477, or contact us online. We provide a free case review and a team of experienced personal injury attorneys for every client, with no fee unless you receive a settlement.

Daytime view of a pile of orange and yellow elm leaves on the ground

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