As a general rule, property owners have a duty to those whom they invite onto their land to ensure that the property is reasonably safe and that visitors are warned of any hazards that are present on the property. While this duty applies to landowners year-round, the majority of Massachusetts slip-and-fall cases occur in the harsh winter months, where sidewalks and parking lots often more closely resemble ice rinks than pedestrian walkways.
When it comes to snow or ice accumulations on their property, Massachusetts landowners must “act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probable seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk.” However, that was not always the case. It used to be that Massachusetts landowners were only responsible for “unnatural” accumulations of snow or ice until the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued an opinion abolishing the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations.
The Factual Basis of the Plaintiff’s Claim
As the court explained the facts, the plaintiff was injured in a grocery store parking lot when he slipped and fell on a chunk of ice that had become frozen to the parking lot pavement. On the day of the plaintiff’s accident, it was not snowing, but it had snowed earlier that week. The grocery store had hired another company to clear the store’s parking lot, and although much of the lot was clear, there were several piles of snow.