Property owners in Massachusetts have a legal obligation to take certain steps to prevent visitors to their property from suffering injuries in slip and fall accidents.
If someone suffers a slip and fall injury because a property owner did not fulfill his or her obligations, the property owner could be held liable for the victim’s injuries.
However, the victim will not be able to sue for his or her slip and fall injury unless he or she can prove the property owner was negligent. Generally, this means the victim must establish the following:
- There was a duty of care – This refers to a duty to act as a reasonably prudent individual would if he or she were in a similar situation. For property owners, this means taking reasonable steps to keep a property safe for visitors.
- The duty of care was breached – This means that the individual who had a duty of care did not satisfy the duty of care, given the situation. An example is failing to clean up a wet floor when it was reasonable to do so.
- The breach of the duty of care caused an injury – You have to establish that the breach of the duty of care was the primary cause of your injuries.
- The injury resulted in damages – This means that your injury created damages like medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
When you meet with an attorney to determine if you have a viable case, one of the first things he or she will do is try to determine the duty of care you were owed when you entered the property.
The duty of care depends on what your legal classification was when you entered the property. There are two main classifications:
This refers to anyone who has a legal right to step onto a piece of property. This could include:
- Customers who enter private businesses, such as retail stores or shopping malls
- People who use public property for its intended purpose, such as using a walkway in a public park
- A person who is invited to a neighbor’s home for a social gathering
- Someone invited onto another’s property to conduct business, such as a vendor delivering something
Duty Owed to Legal Entrants
For legal entrants on a property, owner’s have a legal duty of care to take reasonable steps to keep their property safe. This includes taking reasonable steps to remove hazards and other obstacles if they know or should know that there is a reasonable chance these obstacles could cause harm to people who enter the property.
Reasonable steps could include fixing a staircase that is in disrepair, cleaning up spills or slippery surfaces, eliminating cracks or dips in the floorboards that people could stumble over, or removing snow in a walkway that visitors frequently use.
The duty of care does not obligate the property owner to take steps to remove a hazard or repair a part of the property if there is no reasonable expectation that it will cause harm to visitors.
Property owners can only be held liable if the visitor was engaging in an activity that was reasonably foreseeable by the property owner. For example, using a staircase in a retail store to travel to another floor is something the property owner would expect. If a visitor suffers an injury because the staircase was unsafe, the property owner could be held liable.
If the victim was injured while using the property for an unintended purpose or in a way the property owner could not be expected to anticipate, the property owner cannot be held liable. An example of this would be someone who suffered an injury while climbing on shelves in a retail store.
The duty of care also includes a duty to warn visitors about a dangerous situation that would not be obvious to a person of average intelligence, or one who is exercising reasonable care.
For instance, if a business owner was having a problem with falling ceiling tiles, but there were no obvious indications of falling ceiling tiles in the store, the owner might have an obligation to make a sign or provide some other type of warning.
A trespasser is someone who has no legal right to enter a piece of property. Property owners do not owe any duty of reasonable care to trespassers.
The only way a property owner could be held liable for a slip and fall injury to a trespasser is if the owner took willful, wanton or reckless action to harm the trespasser.
An example would be a homeowner who, after becoming aware of a trespasser sneaking onto his property late at night, set some sort of trap that would be reasonably expected to cause harm to the trespasser. If the trespasser is injured from the trap, he or she may have a viable premises liability claim.
Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231, § 85Q, a property owner could be held liable for injuries to a child trespasser if the following conditions are met:
- The hazardous condition that caused the injury is in a place where the property owner knows or has a reasonable expectation that children are likely to trespass.
- The property owner knows or should know that the hazard has an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to a child.
- The children did not discover the condition or realize how dangerous it was.
- The property owner’s use for the hazard and the burden of eliminating it are small compared to the risk to the children.
- The property owner failed to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or protect potential child trespassers.
While recreational users of property are not trespassers, property owners owe recreational users the same duty of care as trespassers.
Property owners who allow the public to use their land without charging a fee for a recreational purpose, cannot be held liable for injuries to those users. However, property owners can be held liable for injuries caused by their own willful, wanton or reckless conduct.
Janet, Janet & Suggs’ slip and fall lawyers have detailed knowledge of the different classifications of visitors to property. We will advise you of all of your legal options after a slip and fall injury.