Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Owners of property and persons in control of property have a responsibility under the law to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition.  Now that winter is approaching, questions arise as to the responsibility of property owners, landlords and business owners to clear snow and ice on their properties.

Beginning in 1883 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court began to analyze the duty of a landlord to a tenant who fell in a common area.  From this earliest decision arose what other states and commentators have called the “Massachusetts Rule.”  This rule provided that a landlord and others who owned or controlled property could not be held liable for natural accumulations of snow or ice.  When snow fell, the landlord or business owner could simply let the snow accumulate without fault.  However, owners of land could be found liable if a person was injured on the property due to an unnatural accumulation of snow or ice.  One of the earlier decisions in Massachusetts involved a tenant that slipped and fell on ice in a common area of a tenement house. In this case, the accumulation of ice was created by a broken water pipe.  The court imposed liability for the landlord’s failure to fix the pipe “for which he was as much responsible as if he had placed the water there by his voluntary act.”  Watkins v. Goodall, 138 Mass. 533, 537 (1885).

For over 100 years this distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice served as the basis for deciding whether an owner of land could be found responsible for the harms and losses of people who were injured due to winter conditions.  However in 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, 457 Mass. 368 (2010), eliminated this distinction and held that there exists for “all hazards arising from snow and ice the same obligation of reasonable care that a property owner owes to lawful visitors regarding all other hazards.”  In other words, a landowner owes a duty of reasonable care for all conditions on his/her property.

On April 10, 2014, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in Sheehan v. Weaver, held that owners/occupiers of certain buildings, as described under G.L. c. 143, § 51, are strictly liable for injuries caused by building code violations. The ruling applies to places of assembly and by the terms of the statute to special halls, public halls, factories, workshops, manufacturing establishments and “building[s]” as construed by the Court. As noted in the decision, “building” as used in the statute is narrowly defined. Single-family homes, owner-occupied two-family homes, and small scale residential structures would not be “buildings” covered by the ruling. The determining factor is not whether property use is “commercial” or “public.” Rather, the focus under the ruling is whether the property at issue is a place at which large numbers of people gather for occupational, entertainment, or other purposes. Such places must have been designed for continuing public assembly.
Continue Reading

Only days after a fire in an Allston building killed a Boston University student, the owner of the building, Anna Belokurova, has reportedly been cited by Boston police for allegedly running an illegal rooming house, and using the basement of the premises as bedrooms. According to Boston police, Belokurova allowed 19 people to live in the 2 story house, a violation of a Boston city ordinance. The ordinance states that a maximum of 4 unrelated students may live in a dwelling at one time, and according to police, there were 6 Boston University students living on the premises at the time of Lee’s death. Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said that his office was also investigating the incident to determine if criminal charges may be brought.
Continue Reading

On February 15, 2013, David W. Heinlein, a partner at Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C., with offices in Boston, Cambridge and Natick, obtained a personal injury jury verdict in Las Vegas against the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in the amount of $1,291,435.53. The jury, in this case involving a car striking a pedestrian, entered its verdict on Friday evening after a week-long trial. Once the post-trial calculations are added to the verdict, the judgment is expected to be well in excess of $1.5 Million.
Continue Reading

The Massachusetts Recreational Use Statute, G.L. c. 21, § 17C, provides, in part, that “any person having an interest in land . . . who lawfully permits the public to use such land for recreational . . . purposes without imposing a charge of fee therefor . . . shall not be liable for personal injuries . . . sustained by such members of the public . . . while on said land in the absence of wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct by such person.” Some Courts have focused on whether the injured party actually handed over money in exchange for access the land when determining whether a landowner/occupier is entitled to immunity for negligence. As a result, the Recreational Use statute has been interpreted by some courts to lead to absurd results where one visitor may be entitled to common law duty of care, but another visiting on an admission-free day, may be without remedy when injured. Moreover, some premises liability victims have been left without remedy despite the fact that the landowner/occupier is making substantial sums from activities at the location at issue, either through direct payments from user groups or due to the sale of goods and services on the premises. Such interpretations have improperly expanded the scope of immunity under the Recreational Use statute.
Continue Reading