Slip and Fall Accidents from Snow & Ice during a Massachusetts Winter

Massachusetts has officially encountered the first blizzard of 2017!  Snow and ice are common causes of slip and fall accidents and injuries.  If you were injured during a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property, you shouldn’t blame yourself or be responsible for the financial burdens of medical expenses and loss of wages from missing work.  You may be entitled to compensation for these personal injuries. Compensation for a personal injury claim includes medical expenses, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Types of Slip and Fall Accidents

There are three different types of personal injury cases involving slip and falls: trip and falls, step and falls, and slip and falls.  A trip and fall accident occurs when you step over an object and fall.  An accident like this could be caused by a snow bank or a block of ice in a parking lot.  A step and fall accident can happen if you encounter an unexpected hole or step while walking.  An example of a step and fall accident in the winter would be if you encountered a hole in the pavement of a parking lot.  Snow could be covering the hole and you were not expecting it, and consequently you fell.  Lastly, a slip and fall accident is the most common among the winter months.  A slip and fall accident occurs when you encounter a slippery substance on the surface you are walking on, which causes you to fall and be injured.  These slippery substances most commonly are snow and/or ice.  If you have sustained an injury due to a trip and fall, step and fall, or slip and fall, you may be eligible to compensation.

Common Injuries Suffered from a Slip and Fall Accident

A slip and fall injury can range from mild to severe.  Common injuries suffered after a slip and fall accident include fractured bones, back injuries, concussions, traumatic brain injuries, soft tissue injuries, neck injuries, and knee injuries.  These injuries can range in severity.  Some are mild while others are more serious. 

All of these injuries can result in very expensive medical bills and leave people unable to work and earn wages.  This can cause the accident victim and their family financial distress.  This is why anyone injured in a slip and fall should know their rights and options to protect themselves and their family.

Who is Legally Responsible?

Generally, property owners have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of their guests, invitees, or patrons of their property.  Poor maintenance of a property, such as uncleaned snow and unsalted ice, often causes people to fall and sustain injuries.  Property owners and managers are responsible to fix hazards that potentially could cause harm or injury to any and every one on the property.  

With regard to snow and ice, there used to be a distinction in Massachusetts between whether the snow and ice had accumulated naturally or unnaturally. In 2010, however, Massachusetts’ highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, abolished this distinction and held in the case Papadopoulos v. Target Corp, 457 Mass. 368 (2010) that property owners have a duty to act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, when dealing with snow and ice on their property, regardless of whether the snow and ice had accumulated naturally or unnaturally.  This means that property owners are responsible to remove or treat snow and ice like any other dangerous condition on their property.  Their failure to do so may result in the property owner being held legally responsible for injuries anyone suffers from falling on snow and ice on their property.

The main issue faced in slip and fall cases due to snow and ice is what constitutes “reasonable” snow and ice removal or treatment.  This is typically addressed on a case by case basis. What may be considered reasonable in one case might be found to be unreasonable in another case. This wiggle room, if you will, gives insurance companies wide latitude to deny claims by arguing their insured (the property owner) acted reasonable. This is precisely why anyone injured in a slip and fall on snow and ice should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Insurance companies also try to place blame on the accident victim for the fall.  In general, when walking on a slippery surface, as a pedestrian, you have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid getting hurt.  Therefore, in a slip and fall accident, each party may have some degree of liability.  When in a lawsuit, the property owner will attempt to show they took reasonable care to maintain a safe property while the victim failed to exercise reasonable care when walking on property owner’s property.  This is called comparative negligence.

Under comparative negligence laws, in Massachusetts, the plaintiff can only be compensated if their share of the blame is less than 51%.  In the event the plaintiff is less than 51% at fault, the amount they receive will be reduced by their share of the blame.  For example, if a plaintiff in a slip and fall case was found to be 20% comparatively negligent for the fall and injuries and awarded $100,000, they would only receive 80% of the award ($80,000) from the jury and/or judge.

What You Should do if You Slip & Fall on Snow and Ice

As you can see, there are many issues a slip and fall victim can face in pursuing a claim for compensation for injuries. This is why it is important to speak with an experienced accident lawyer. A personal injury attorney will properly advise their client, protect their rights and aggressively fight for compensation.

It is always best to know what to do in the event you are injured from a slip and fall on a privately-owned property. Following a slip and fall accident, you should remember to complete these three steps.  The first step is always to get help.  Call 911 for medical attention or ask someone to help you, if needed.  Second, if possible, take a picture of the property.  A picture could be used in court as proof that the property owner did not use reasonable care to remove or treat snow and ice to keep you safe. Pictures can be the best evidence you have to prove your case. Third, report the accident to the property owner.  Reporting the accident to the property owner puts them on notice of the fall and alerts them that a claim or lawsuit may be filed. This will prevent the property owner from claiming that they never knew about the fall. While there are many other steps to take following a slip and fall accident, these three will be a great start in the pursuit of financial compensation for your injuries. 

Mahaney & Pappas, LLP has extensive experience representing people injured in slip and fall accidents. Chuck Pappas and Joe Mahaney have specialized in personal injury cases and focus their practice on helping accident victims get the compensation they deserve.  Please feel free to contact us or call (508) 879-3500 to schedule a free meeting to discuss your claim.