Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Poised To Change Rule In Slip-And-Fall Cases: Part I

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is poised to reconsider a longstanding rule in premises liability cases – the so-called “natural accumulation rule” – leading some defense lawyers to fear that the SJC’s decision could pave the way for a tidal wave of new premises liability lawsuits.
Under the “natural accumulation rule,” which has been a part of Massachusetts law for more than a century, property owners are not liable if someone slips on a “natural accumulation” of snow or ice that is on their property. So, to oversimplify a bit, if someone slips on virgin snowfall or naturally occurring ice, the property owner will not be held liable. But if the snow or ice is altered from its natural state – for example, by water flowing from a gutter pipe – the property owner may be held liable.
The natural accumulation rule has led to a raft of precedents that are difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with one another. After years of complaints about the inconsistent application of the rule and the lack of any underlying public policy rationale, the Supreme Judicial Court recently agreed to hear arguments in the case of Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation and to consider the question of “whether, in a premises liability action involving snow and ice, the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice should continue to be a factor under Massachusetts law.”
In the Papadopoulos case, Mr. Papadopoulos slipped in the parking lot of a Target department store that had recently been snowplowed, resulting in a hip injury that required surgery. However, a trial court judge threw out his case, ruling that the ice he slipped on was “natural accumulation.”
Hopefully, the Supreme Judicial Court will abolish the natural accumulation rule. The rule gives property owners and commercial tenants no incentive to properly shovel, plow and sand their property. It is an outlier in Massachusetts law because landlords are responsible for keeping their property in safe condition in virtually all other areas. As Mr. Papadopoulos’ lawyer argues, Target has a duty to “repair defective walkways, fix the cracks in their parking lot [and] clean up spills in their stores.” There should be a corresponding duty to keep their property free of snow and ice.
Check back here for updates on the Papadopoulos case. There will be a post about the case’s outcome and posts about new rules the Supreme Judicial Court might consider.

If you have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident, and require the services of a Boston personal injury attorney, call The Law Office of Alan H. Crede at (617)973-6434 to arrange a free consultation.