In a decision that changes nearly a century’s worth of case law, Massachusetts highest court has ruled that property owners can be held liable for snow-related injuries — regardless of whether plows cleared the snow.
For more than 100 years, a key factor in liability for a slip-and-fall injury was how the snow or ice came to lay on the ground. The state has long maintained a difference between “natural” and “unnatural” accumulations of snow and ice, and apportioned liability accordingly. Previous cases in the courts had consistently found that property owners who did not remove “natural” accumulations of snow and ice could not be held liable for a slip and fall.
However, the Supreme Judicial Court has now invalidated that long-held legal distinction in the Bay State.
This case centered on an elderly man, Emanuel Papadopoulos, of Peabody, who fell on ice as he was leaving a Target store in Danvers — a slip and fall that left him with a broken pelvis.
He sued Target and its plowing company, but the case was dismissed by a lower court, which ruled that the department store chain was not liable since the patch of ice — caused by snow that melted and refroze — was deemed by the judge to have occurred “naturally.”
But the Supreme Judicial Court overturned that verdict, finding that property owners have “a duty to keep the property reasonably safe.