Slip-and-Fall Injury Claims Made Easier in Massachusetts

Don’t let your case for injury recovery slide by

As winter’s icy grips descends upon Massachusetts each year, so too do icy surfaces. The continual freeze and thaws create myriad opportunities for slip-and-fall accidents. So what do you do if you experience one?

Fortunately for residents of the commonwealth, “Massachusetts has gone through a recent renaissance in snow and ice law,” says Boston attorney Samuel Segal. A case decided in the state supreme court in 2010, Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, changed the old law that made it difficult to pursue slip-and-fall cases. “A case from the 1800s held that you are unable to make a claim for a slip-and-fall unless you can prove, usually with an expert, that the snow and ice were of an unnatural accumulation. You had to show that, in some way, the defendant made this happen. For 150 years, you couldn’t blame someone for what the weather does. So we got stuck with this natural verses unnatural weather issue,” says Segal.

The old case law was based on a slip-and-fall that happened while a landowner was away from their property and could not have prevented the accident. “Bad facts made bad law and we got shouldered with 150-odd years of that in our snow and ice law,” Segal adds. “Thankfully, the court got rid of that and replaced it with a pure comparative negligence standard. This has made slip-and-fall cases a lot more plaintiff-friendly and a lot easier to handle.”   

The new standard is pure comparative negligence. This means that a landowner owes a duty to use reasonable care to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. As long as one is not a trespasser when they slip and fall on a landowner’s property, a plaintiff can now recover. A landowner now has a duty to keep their property reasonably free from ice and snow.

Things to consider when attempting to collect for injuries sustained in a slip and fall include:

  • The extent of the injuries: They only need to be considered to assess damages. If there was a pre-existing state of the plaintiff that was exacerbated by the fall, it doesn’t free the landowner from liability. One must take the plaintiff as they come onto the property.  
  • The condition of the property: Was the property in an unreasonable condition and was that condition known by the property owner?
  • The statute of limitations: One must file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out (three years from the date of the fall, or from the time of death caused by the fall due to tolling statutes).
  • The comparative negligence standard: Comes into play when a plaintiff’s amount is reduced by the percent that they are liable for the injuries. For example, if the landowner is 75 percent at fault for not correcting a hazardous condition on the property and the plaintiff was 25 percent at fault for not noticing signs or wearing improper shoes, a $10,000 award of damages would only pay out $7,500 to the plaintiff.
  • Document everything you can: Pictures, videos, medical records, and even gathering security footage can help make your case.

Many of these slip-and-fall cases can be settled before a lawsuit is filed by negotiating with the landowner’s insurance company. But even so, you’re always best served by finding a reputable and experienced attorney who can help to negotiate a settlement that is in your best interests and the amount you deserve. Remember, the insurance companies will have you speaking with an attorney of their own, who defends these cases all day, every day. The best part: You won’t pay your attorney unless you get paid.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of personal injury and premises liability.

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