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What happens if we don’t shovel – and someone slips?

Jan 18, 2012   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Condominiums, Real Estate  //  No Comments

Last time, in too many words, I discussed the consequences of not shoveling the sidewalk near your condo building.  In that post, I explained a two-year-old state law that empowers cities to seek enforce fines for not shoveling the sidewalk, even though it’s city-owned.  Before that law, towns could only get mad at you.

Well, everyone, that wasn’t the only big change in state snow-removal law during the winter of 2009-2010.  The law of slip-and-fall liability changed drastically, too.  For a long time, Massachusetts made a crazy distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” snowfall.  You couldn’t be held liable for natural, undisturbed accumulation because the storm put the snow there.  You didn’t.  However, if you did a bad job shoveling, then you could be in trouble.  In that case, the law assumed your inept shoveling caused the slip-and-fall injury.  As you can imagine, this natural/unnatural rule created some strange incentives and lawsuits.

This rule came to an end after somebody fell in Target’s unplowed parking lot in Danvers.  In the resulting lawsuit, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decided to follow whatever Alaska does, since they know snow even better than us.  (This was the first SJC argument I watched live, and the justices seemed really interested in Alaska’s snow law).  The new rule is the basic rule of negligence that applies to nearly everything else in life.

So, what does that mean for condo owners shoveling city-owned sidewalks?  Not much.  Because you don’t own the sidewalk, you probably* aren’t responsible for any injury.  In fact, this rule panicked many Massachusetts cities and towns worried about their own liability.  As the real owners of the sidewalk, the cities have more to fear when somebody falls due to your sub-par snow removal.

Because snow removal hasn’t been a big concern this winter, we’ll explore a new topic next time.  If you have a question you’d like answered, just let me know.  Thanks for reading.

*Legal writing includes lots of “probably.”

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