I was walking down Columbus Avenue in Boston’s South End neighborhood Sunday after enjoying a wonderful Jazz Brunch at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen. It had snowed the previous morning leaving some sidewalks clear of snow and ice, while others had a layer of ice that made walking hazardous.
Sure enough, as my brunch crew was walking, my friend Sam nearly took a really bad spill. His knee twisted and he, luckily, caught himself before sustaining a more serious injury.
This incident made me think: Does a property owner owe their tenants and public pedestrians any duty to clear snow and ice in Massachusetts? And If so how soon during or after the snowstorm should the snow be cleared?
The answer is yes! The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Papadopoulos v. Target, 457 Mass. 368 (July 26, 2010) ruled that property owners ARE liable if an injury results due to their failure to remove snow and ice.
Further, landlords MUST keep the common areas and sidewalks free of ice and snow accumulation pursuant to the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code regulation 410.452. UNLESS they have a written agreement with the tenant, for the tenant to keep the area clear of snow and ice.
For tenants, a landlord’s failure to clear snow and ice would constitute a breach of warranty of habitability. Depending on the duration of the neglect, it could rise to a breach of quiet enjoyment. Damages for breach of quiet enjoyment are three times one month’s rent plus attorney fees.
For pedestrians who may be walking across someone’s property and fall, the property owner will be liable if the property owner failed to:
“. . . act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probable seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk” Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 457 Mass. at 383 (quoting Young v. Garwacki, 380 Mass. 162, 169 (1980)).
In plain English, that means: if there are ice and snow on a person’s sidewalk well after a snowstorm and a pedestrian injures herself on it, the property owner is liable. While the court was silent on the property owner’s duty to remove snow and ice during a snowstorm, property owners are well advised to remove snow as it accumulates rather than risk legal liability.
If you are a tenant and your landlord is not removing snow and ice, get in contact today.
If you’re a pedestrian and you have slipped on ice, get in contact to discuss your injury.