Now that we are finally getting a break from the unbearable cold weather here in Massachusetts, the snow is starting to melt from the mounds of snow plowed and shoveled into huge piles. What is happening is that the sun and warmer temperatures are melting some of the snow and cause water to run onto the parking lots, driveways and walkways of properties. When the temperature drops at nighttime that run off water will freeze. The resulting ice creates a very dangerous, slippery condition in the parking lots and walkways, which can cause many slip and fall accidents and serious injuries.
Overview of the Law on Slip & Falls from Snow & Ice in Massachusetts
Personal injury claims from slip and fall accidents are almost always aggressively defended by insurance companies. This is because they know juries can be tough on slip and fall trials. The issue with slip and fall cases is, as with all personal injury cases, whether the property owner or person/entity in control of the property was negligent. When insurance companies deny slip and fall cases, they usually say “we are not responsible to pay compensation for all accidents, but only ones in which our insured was legally responsible.” This means that the claimant / plaintiff must prove that the property owner was negligent in order to recover financial compensation for their injuries and losses.
Generally, in Massachusetts, an owner of land owes a common-law duty of reasonable care to all persons lawfully on the premises. Davis v. Westwood Group, 420 Mass. 739 (1995). This duty includes an obligation to maintain the "property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk." Young v. Garwacki, 380 Mass. 162, 169 (1980); Mounsey v. Ellard, 363 Mass. 693 (1973).
When it comes to snow and ice in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that property owners owe lawful visitors the same obligation of reasonable care regarding hazards arising from snow and ice as they do regarding all other hazards. Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 457 Mass. 368 (2010). This ruling from a slip and fall accident that happened in Danvers, Massachusetts set a new standard in Massachusetts. Now property owners must 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.
Similarly, snow removal contractors or plow companies owe a duty of reasonable care in clearing snow and ice, and have an obligation to "perform the duties in a diligent and workmanlike manner." Conners v. Northeast Hosp. Corp., 439 Mass., 469, 480 (2003). When snow removal companies undertake a job to plow snow and treat the ice at a property, they will owe a duty to do so in a diligent workman like manner. If they breach their duty, they may be found responsible and liable for a slip and fall accident victim’s damages.
Important Actions to Take to Support a Slip & Fall Claim
A slip and fall accident can cause serious injuries. In some situations these injuries can lead to very expensive medical bills, missed time at work and lost wages as well as severe pain and suffering. With those type of damages and the burden of proof being on you, you want to make sure you take the necessary steps to support your personal injury claim or case from your slip and fall. Here are a few things you want to make sure you do after a slip and fall on snow and ice:
- Report your slip and fall right away. If you happen to slip and fall on snow or ice, make sure you report your accident right away to the appropriate person. For example, if your fall was in a store parking lot, you should report the fall immediately to the store manager or risk management personnel. When reporting your accident, be sure to put something in writing and keep a copy. This will document the fact that you fell, the date and time of your fall, your injuries and the cause of the fall (i.e., snow and ice).
- Take photographs of the snow and ice. Taking a picture of the property or dangerous condition on the property (snow and ice) can be very helpful in a slip and fall case. Sometimes, it can be the best piece of evidence of the property owner’s negligence. A picture provides graphic evidence of the snow and ice the land owner left or failed to address on the property. Without a picture of the property with the hazardous condition, lawyers and insurance adjusters must rely on witness statements and their recollection of what the property looked like on a specific day. Their recollection can differ substantially from yours.
- Get medical attention immediately. If you are seriously injured in a slip and fall accident you should call 911 for an ambulance right away. If you didn’t call 911, you should see a doctor as soon as possible after the accident. Calling for an ambulance or seeing a doctor right away will get you the medical help you need for your injuries. Additionally, calling 911 or seeing a doctor will document your injures and the case of your injuries (the slip and fall). This will be important later on in your case.
These three tips are not the only actions you should take following an accident. If you have questions or concerns about your accident or injury, you should consult with a lawyer or law office that is experienced in handling slip and fall cases. A lawyer can help protect your legal rights and fight to get you the compensation you deserve for your injuries and damages.
Speak to an Experienced Slip & Fall Attorney Today
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. Feel free to contact us or call (508) 879-3500 to schedule a free meeting to discuss your claim.