Anyone who has walked or driven around Boston knows that the streets and sidewalks of the city are not exactly pristine. Cities and towns in Massachusetts are often old, historic towns which endure New England’s rough winters and wet springs. Old trees grow underneath the streets and sidewalks causing them to tilt; frost heaves and potholes abound.

As a result, injuries to drivers and pedestrians from defective streets and sidewalks are fairly common. And when they happen, people rightly ask: Can I bring a claim against my City or Town for personal injuries?

From a legal perspective, the answer to this question is: Not Really. In Massachusetts, lawsuits for defective sidewalks and streets are governed by statute –Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 84, Section 15, which is titled “Personal injuries or property damage from defective ways.” Under this statute, the most any person can recover for injuries caused by roadway or sidewalk defects is $5,000. Further, under Section 18 of the same Chapter, the city or town must be put on notice within 30 days of the accident or the injured person may be unable to recover at all. But what about claims against the City or Town for failing to clear ice and snow resulting in injuries? These claims are barred by Chapter 84, Section 17, which shields cities or towns from liability from snow and ice on public ways.

The bottom line is that Massachusetts law rather strongly protects Cities and Towns from lawsuits arising out of defective streets and sidewalks. One could debate whether this should be the case, as it could obviously have the effect of cities and towns putting the condition and safety of its public ways on the back-burner. But whatever the merits of these statutes, they remain the law.

While an injury caused by a defect in a public way may have a limited chance of recovery, an injured person should always consult a lawyer to determine if the defect was in fact on a public way, or whether there are other potential claims against people or entities other than the city or town. The lawyers at SUGARMAN are dedicated personal injury attorneys who represent those who have been injured. If you have been hurt in an accident and wish to speak to one of our attorneys regarding liability, please fill out a Contact Form, call us at (617) 542-1000 or e-mail