High Court Overrules 100 Years of Massachusetts Snow Removal Law
In a much anticipated ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overruled 125 years of legal precedent and announced a new rule of law that all Massachusetts property owners are legally responsible for the removal of snow and ice from their property. The case is Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. and can be read here.
Rejecting the old common law rule that property owners could simply leave naturally accumulated snow and ice untreated and escape liability, the SJC held that all Massachusetts property owners must remove or treat snow and ice like any other dangerous condition on property. Justice Ralph Gants reasoned that “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.’’ Now for some frequently asked questions about the new law.
I am a landlord. How long do I have to shovel snow and ice on my rental property?
There is no clear cut answer to this question, and juries and courts will ultimately decide what is reasonable. The City of Boston’s policy is to give businesses 3 hours to clean snow, and 6 hours to residents. In Worcester, it’s 12 hours to clear snow. Those are the minimums. As with any dangerous condition, my advice is to shovel and treat snow and ice early and often. Even a thin coating of black ice can cause someone to slip and fall and seriously hurt themselves. (Admit it if you’ve dumped on your rear end like I have!). If you are an out-of-town landlord, you must hire someone to shovel your snow.
My lease states that the tenant is responsible for snow shoveling. Will that protect me from liability?
Probably not. A person who is injured due to untreated snow or ice will likely sue both the property owner and the tenant. The property owner must ultimately ensure that the property is safe for visitors. The landlord may bring a claim for contribution/indemnification against the tenant.
I live in Boston, and I heard I have to shovel the public sidewalk in front of my house after a storm. Is that true?
Yes. On top of their added responsibilities, property owners in several Massachusetts communities, including Boston, Cambridge, Newton, Lynn, and Worcester, are required by local ordinances to clear municipal sidewalks in front of their residences or businesses. The City of Boston mandates clean sidewalks within 6 hours of a storm; Worcester is 12 hours. For towns and cities without municipal-owned sidewalks, sidewalks remain the property of the abutting owner, and must be cleared by those owners.
Will my homeowner’s or CGL insurance policy cover any injuries from slip and fall on snow/ice?
Yes, usually. The standard Massachusetts homeowners insurance policy and commercial general liability insurance policy (CGL) will have liability coverage for slip and falls on property. Make sure you have ample liability coverage of at least $500,000 to 1 Million. (You can never have enough insurance!). As with any insurance question, it’s best to contact your personal insurance agent.
I’m just a regular homeowner. What if the mailman or delivery person slips on my walkway?
You may be liable if you left dangerous snow and ice on your walkway. The new law applies to every property owner in Massachusetts, not just landlords. Get some Ice-melt and sand and spread on your walkway. If it re-freezes overnight into black ice, you will remain liable. Get back out there and spread Ice-melt!
If you have additional questions, please ask them in the comment forms below!
Read More: Shoveling Ruling May Face First Test–Boston Globe (12.25.10).
Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts Real Estate Litigation Attorney who has litigated hundreds of cases in the Massachusetts Land and Superior Courts. For further information you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.