Court says property owners better do an extra good job of clearing snow and ice this winter
The Supreme Judicial Court today threw out a longstanding Massachusetts legal doctrine that protected property owners against injury claims when they could show the slippery white stuff was "a natural accumulation."
The court made its decision in a case involving a man who slipped and fell on some ice outside a Target store at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers in 2002 - and who then sued Target and its snow-removal contractor.
Lower courts had rejected the man's suit, saying Target and the contractor had cleared the path and it wasn't their fault that ice had formed on the path, whether from falling off a load of ice dumped on a median or through melted snow that had refrozen.
But the SJC today overturned the basis of that logic, an 1883 case involving a woman who'd slipped on some ice on her tenement steps, saying the logic used to divide "natural" and "unnatural" accumulations of ice or snow was just too tortured, and flies in the face of rulings on other landlord-liability issues, such as banana peels:
We do not accept this rationale where a property owner knows or has reason to know that a banana peel has been left on a floor by a careless customer; we have long held that the property owner has a duty to keep the property reasonably safe for lawful visitors regardless of the source of the danger.
We now discard the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice, which had constituted an exception to the general rule of premises liability that a property owner owes a duty to all lawful visitors to use reasonable care to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances.