Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Ruling For Defendants Following Apartment Slip & Fall

A plaintiff was injured after she tripped on a bent stake jutting onto the walkway outside her condominium unit. She thereafter filed suit, alleging that the owner of the complex, Huntington Wood Condominium Trust, and the contractor responsible for snow removal, The Green Company Landscape & Irrigation, Inc., negligently maintained a hazardous condition that caused her injury. The superior court disagreed, finding that she failed to establish that the defendants had actual or constructive notice of a supposedly dangerous condition. The judge therefore granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed, and the Massachusetts Court of Appeals affirmed.
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She alleged that in mid-March 2010, she injured herself when she tripped on a stake that poked out onto the walkway next to her condo unit. She passed that stake approximately three times that day before falling. She noticed that it was bent but did not realize it was jutting out onto the walkway. In the evening, she walked to her car. When she returned from her car, she tripped over the stake.

Affirming the lower court’s grant of summary judgment, the appeals court found no genuine issue of material fact with respect to lack of notice. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must first prove the defendants’ breach of the duty of reasonable care. In a slip and fall claim, the plaintiff must identify the hazardous condition that caused her to slip, prove that it was present prior to her injury, and demonstrate that the defendants either caused the condition to be there, had actual knowledge of its existence, or had a reasonable opportunity to discover and remedy it.

In finding there was no genuine dispute of material fact, the court relied on Barry v. Beverly Enterprises-Massachusetts. There, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that a defendant with no reasonable opportunity to discover and remedy a hazardous condition because of lack of either actual or constructive knowledge could not be found in violation of its duty of care. In that case, the plaintiff, a former milk truck driver, sought damages for a back injury he allegedly sustained as a result of slipping and falling on ice on the defendant’s property while he was making a delivery. In affirming the judgment for the defendant, the appeals court emphasized that there was no evidence that any of the defendant’s employees saw ice on the day of the accident or that the ice was even visible. The plaintiff’s own deposition and trial testimony indicated that the puddle did not appear to be slippery. Furthermore, there was no evidence concerning temperature, weather conditions, or the length of time the ice had been there. Thus, there was no evidence suggesting that the defendant was or should have been on notice that water and ice might accumulate in a hazardous manner in its delivery area. The evidence was therefore insufficient to warrant an inference that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known of the icy condition that caused the plaintiff’s fall.

In this case, the appeals court reasoned that while there was evidence that a hazardous condition existed at the time of the plaintiff’s injury, there was no evidence that the defendants had actual or constructive notice of the allegedly dangerous condition before the accident. She never reported any concern with the stake to the defendants, nor did anyone else. Moreover, the evidence suggested the stake did not jut out onto the walkway until minutes before her injury.

Accordingly, the court found no error in the lower court’s conclusion that the fact that a stake is bent and is near a walkway places no one on notice of a hazardous condition. Consequently, the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendants breached a duty of reasonable care.

For these reasons, the appeals court held the lower court properly granted summary judgment to the defendants.

If you have been hurt in a slip and fall, you may need the assistance of a premises liability lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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Appeals Court Upholds Ruling for Defendant in Medical Malpractice Case, Neumann Law Group, June 21, 2017.

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Massachusetts Appeals Court Holds State Occupational Safety Regulations Appropriately Excluded From Negligence Trial, Neumann Law Group, April 14, 2017.

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