With the first major blizzard of the year apparently upon us, Massachusetts TV and radio airwaves are full of tips to prevent personal injury and other calamity. Cars have been "banned" from the roads and we are told to stay inside. But what are our actual legal duties in Massachusetts to prevent personal injuries and property damage?
Like almost every aspect of Massachusetts personal injury law, we all owe each other a duty of reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm and injuries to others. In snow events like this, that duty is not changed. In fact, the duty we owe is likely heightened. To take the easiest example--and one we all intuitively know--drivers always owe a duty to drive with reasonable care, but in a snow event more care is required because the risk of harm is higher. Driving during a "ban" from the Governor's office, while perhaps not automatically negligent, would certainly be strong evidence of a breach of duty, particularly if you were aware of the ban.
There is also a duty of property owners and their contractors to exercise reasonable care to remove snow and ice under Massachusetts law. For a long time, Massachusetts law was that a person owed no duty to remove snow and ice from their property so long as it had fallen to the ground naturally and remained in a "natural" condition. A person injured from a fall on such "natural" snow or ice could not bring a claim for personal injuries even if the natural snow and ice was in the middle of an entrance to a busy store.
In 2010, however, Massachusetts' highest court found that this law made no sense, and held the duty of care included taking reasonable steps to timely remove snow and ice from one's property, even if it had fallen and remained in a natural condition. The reason given by the Court was straightforward: "It is not reasonable for a property owner to leave snow or ice on a walkway where it is reasonable to expect that a hardy New England visitor would choose to risk crossing the snow or ice rather than turn back or attempt an equally or more perilous walk around it."
While we may make light of it, and while shoveling is not a popular activity, the duty to remove snow and ice from property (and from the top of vehicles) is actually a serious one. In SUGARMAN's personal injury practice, we have seen falls on snow and ice cause severe personal injuries, including major fractures, head injuries, and quadriplegia. Injuries from vehicles driven negligently in the snow, as well as flying snow and ice from the top of trucks and cars has also caused catastrophic personal injuries and even death. So, while we are all well-advised to stay inside and out of harm's way, that inevitable trek to the garage for the shovel must be done in a reasonable amount of time, and the removal must be done with reasonable care.
If you have any questions about Massachusetts law relating to personal injuries from snow and ice or otherwise, SUGARMAN's personal injury lawyers are available to answer them. Please fill out a Contact Form, call us at (617) 542-1000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org