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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Accidents and Injury Related to Snow, Ice, and Winter Weather in MA and RI

Considering today is New England's third nor'easter in the last two weeks, it may be a good time to discuss how Massachusetts and Rhode Island handle personal injury claims that occur during snowy conditions.

For slip and fall accidents, the State of Rhode Island follows what is called the "Connecticut Rule."  This rule makes it a legal duty for a property owner (of a private residence, retail store, restaurant, and government entities) to remove natural hazards from common areas on the property within a "reasonable time."  Of importance, the "reasonable time" typically lasts at least up until the snowfall has ended.   

While it may not be your first instinct, it is important to document the accident scene at the time of the accident.  Most of us now have smartphones that can easily take pictures of an accident scene as it exists at the time of the injury.  If you do not memorialize the accident scene, it may have melted by the time you come back to inspect it. 

This is very true for automobile accidents in the winter as well.  Skid marks, ice patches, and the like can be gone within minutes or hours after an accident occurred.  While safety is by far the highest priority, if possible, document your automobile accident scene to the best of your ability.  That will help show who (or what) was at fault.

In Massachusetts, the laws surrounding ice accumulation have changed drastically in the new millennium.  Until 2010, Massachusetts followed the "natural accumulation rule" which made it virtually impossible for plaintiffs to recover damages related to their injuries.  Essentially, the Courts held that if the snow came from the sky and landed on your property or if ice developed on your property, you had no duty to remove or treat it. 

In 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court abolished the natural accumulation rule in the case of Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation.  The Court in Papadopoulos held that a property owner has a legal duty to "act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probably seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk." 

While the Court did not provide a formula to decide what constitutes reasonable snow removal, the Court will look at the amount of foot traffic expected on the property, the burden and expense of removing the snow, and the foreseeability of harm to others, amongst others. 

The best thing a person can do when winter strikes is to act reasonably.  If the roads are not safe to drive on, avoid driving, if possible.  If there is snow or ice on your property that can be easily treated or removed, do so safely.  Avoid snowplows.  Drive slowly.  Use salt or sand.  Watch out for black ice. 

In Massachusetts, according to Massachusetts General Law c. 84, §§18-20 "a person must notify the county, city, or town of injury or damage from snow or ice on a public way within 30 days" and according to Massachusetts General Law c. 84, § 21 "a person must notify the owner of private property of injury or damage from snow or ice on their premises with 30 days."  Time is of the essence.  If you are injured in a winter weather related accident, contact the Law Offices of Samuel S. Reidy as soon as possible.

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