First Snow Brings Questions On Change In Snow Removal Law

by Rich Vetstein on December 21, 2010 · 11 comments

in Condominium Law, Landlord Tenant Law, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Premises Liability, Safety

Ice-slip-drinkProperty Owners Need To Clear Snow & Ice After Storms

As I was slipping and sliding in the first real snow yesterday, this blog got a spike in traffic about Massachusetts snow removal law. Back when we were sunning in 80 degree weather, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overruled 125 years of snow removal law 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 old rule was that owners could leave natural accumulations of snow and ice intact and escape liability for slip and falls. No longer.

The case is Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. and can be read here. You can read my prior post on the case here.

Impact To Massachusetts Property Owners: Shovel Early & Often

What this change in Massachusetts snow removal law means for all property owners, both residential and commercial, is that they need to be extra vigilant after snow and ice storms, and clear areas in which the public and visitors have access–early and often. Whether a property owner takes reasonable steps in removing snow and ice will be determined by judges, juries and later cases on an individual basis. If you cannot clear the snow and ice, hire a private company to do it.

Important: speak with your insurance agent about increasing the limits of your liability coverage. I recommend Nadine Heaps at Purple Ink Insurance out of Ashland, MA.

Read More: Shoveling Ruling May Face First Test–Boston Globe (12.25.10).

  • Maurice holland

    What recourse do you have if landlord doesn’t plow so you can safely park your car

  • Michelle

    With this new law, hypothetically, is there anything that would urge the property owner to clear the snow/ice in a timely manner (i.e. in time for the morning commute?) Would a tenant be able to sue for lost wages if they were unable to make it to work on time due to having to remove the snow/ice themselves?

  • tony

    what is the penalty for unshoveled walkways and or driveways what type of fine would the property owner be facing?

  • Matthew

    In my case, we plow all our driveways within 24 hours of a storm ending. Yesterday we had a tenant park at the front of the driveway blocking the driveway and got out of her car and then slipped as she got out of her car in the driveway, she unfortunately did break two bones in her leg and she is already screaming lawsuit. The storm we just had, had not even started and the driveway had been plowed, but of course there is packed snow and some ice under that. We always clear all walks ways and driveways and do a salt/sand mix. I am just frustrated with the system.

  • Matthew

    What about driveways? They are plowed within 24 hours of storm ending, but still not down to the bare asphalt. If someone slips in a driveway that has been plowed, where is the liability?

    • Matthew, hypothetically, a jury would decide if the property owner exercised due care in preventing any dangerous conditions. If there’s a huge block of ice, that’s a problem. There’s no cut and dry answers–to any of these situations.

  • Dr. Armstrong

    Yet again, put a bunch of lawyers in a room together and they make things more complicated and expensive for everyone! I sure the law offices of Barry “Suckalot” are happy with the potential influx of slip and fall cases!

  • Pingback: Boston Real Estate Blog : Blog Archive : Reminder: Law change means you have to shove more – or buy more insurance()

  • Gayle

    What about when there is no lease? I am a tenant at will in a building where there is a common entrance used by the residents of 2 units. There are 12 units in all. There is one entrance for each 2 units on the ends of the building and for each 4 units on the ones in the middle. We have no parking area so we all park on the street. I live on the ground floor and I live alone. The residents o
    in the second floor apartment are half my age and there are 3 of them. I am the only one who shovels and puts ice melt on the sidewalk and steps. I’m tired of it. There have been 5 different groups of tenants in that unit in the 5 years that I have been here. I have a bad back and arthritis. Nobody else cares about clearing the walkway. Nobody has ever helped me except my boyfriend, who does not even live here. Shouldn’t the landlord be responsible for clearing the snow when the entry is common to more than one unit? What happens if I am injured moving the snow? What then? Can I sue my lazy upsatirs neighbors or my landlord for not shoveling? I live in Quincy.

  • Melody, in your hypothetical question, both the tenant and the landlord could be exposed to liability. The victim could sue both parties, then there would be a fight between the landlord and tenant as to bears the ultimate responsibility. Get insurance!

  • Melody

    What happens if the landlord has written into the lease that the tenant is responsible for snow removal? Can they legally abdicate their responsibilities? Does this make the tenant liable for falls? Oy!

    Thanks,
    Melody

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