Massachusetts winter slip-and-fall injuries: The reasonableness standard

With temperatures plunging in Massachusetts, the threat of slip-and-fall accidents becomes more pronounced. Surfaces covered in snow or ice can become highly slippery if property owners do not take the proper safety precautions.

If you are injured this winter in a slip-and-fall accident, you could face expensive medical bills, missed work, and ongoing pain. However, you may be able to recover monetary compensation for the harm done to you if the property owner was negligent in failing to remedy the hazard posed by slick conditions.

"Natural" or "unnatural" snow and ice accumulation distinction fell out of favor

For nearly a hundred years, whether a Massachusetts property owner could be held responsible for slip-and-fall injuries resulting from snow or ice depended upon a distinction between "natural" and "unnatural" snow and ice accumulations. This standard sometimes led to inconsistent and seemingly unfair results. For instance, if a property owner simply did nothing to clear a walkway after a snowfall, even though it presented an obvious danger, that property owner could not be held liable for a slip-and-fall accident that took place because of the "natural" snow accumulation on that walkway.

Relatively recently, however, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court - the state's highest court - did away with the natural versus unnatural distinction in snow or ice slip-and-fall cases. In a 2010 decision, Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., the Supreme Judicial Court wrote, "We now abolish the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice, and apply to all hazards arising from snow and ice the same obligation of reasonable care that a property owner owes to lawful visitors regarding all other hazards."

A reasonableness standard is by no means a bright line rule; but, results under the former natural or unnatural snow or ice accumulation distinction were anything but predictable. Even seasoned judges struggled with the old rule. Now, not only is the slip-and-fall standard for ice and snow in line with that for other types of danger that may be present on a property, it also stems from a more logical line of inquiry.

In a nutshell, to determine whether a property owner can be held liable in Massachusetts for a slip-and-fall that occurred due to snow or ice, the judge or jury must ask this question: Did the property owner, given all the facts and circumstances, do what a reasonably prudent person would have done under the same circumstances to alleviate the risk to the extent possible? If the answer is "yes" and the injury occurred anyway, the property owner might not be liable. On the other hand, if the answer is "no," the property owner may have to pay for resulting damages.

Call a Massachusetts premises liability attorney about your slip-and-fall case

The reasonableness standard is generally better for slip-and-fall victims, as the primary inquiry under this standard is whether the property owner did what he or she should have done, no matter the source of the ice or snow.

If you have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident this winter, you should get in touch with a premises liability attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can analyze the unique circumstances of your case, and help you secure a monetary recovery from a negligent property owner, or, if applicable, his or her insurer. Talk to a lawyer today to learn more about slip-and-fall cases and your right to financial compensation.