Injury on Snow and Ice

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By Marc Diller, Esq.

return to articles on snow and ice accidents

I fell on a patch of icy sidewalk. What should I do?

The first and most important thing is to get immediate medical attention. Make sure that your health is taken care of. Second, you may wish to contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your rights and determine whether any sort of claim or recovery can be made in relation to your injuries. Most reputable attorneys will provide a free consultation for this sort of case.

Can I file a personal injury claim for falling on the ice / snow?

The law regarding snow and ice accumulation, and injuries caused by such accumulation, is complicated, as is determining who may be responsible for maintenance of the property where the injury occurred. You should consult an attorney to determine whether you have a viable claim.

In Massachusetts, you can make a personal injury claim if you were injured as a result of an unnatural accumulation of ice or snow. The “unnatural” part is critical — property owners are not always liable for normal accumulation of snow and ice during a storm — it is assumed that people will take ordinary precautions during a snowy or icy period of weather, so property owners are held responsible when some action (or failure to act) by them results in the accumulation of snow or ice.

Although it may seem that if you were hurt you should be able to make a claim, it doesn’t always work this way. In order for a personal injury claim to be viable, in most cases someone has to be negligent. This means that someone (or some entity like a corporation) either did something or failed to do something that led to an injury. An injury by itself is sometimes not enough to make a claim. In other words, the injury usually must be someone’s fault.

What is an “unnatural” accumulation of ice or snow?

A prime example of an “unnatural” accumulation of ice is where water drips from a building onto a sidewalk, resulting in an icy patch where the rest of the sidewalk is clear. This presents an obvious danger to the public and thus a property owner or manager can be held responsible for failure to properly maintain or supervise the situation. An example of this sort of case in Massachusetts is Pritchard v. Mabrey, 358 Mass. 137 (1970). In that case, bay windows of a building extended out over the sidewalk, dripping water onto the public walkway that later froze and caused a woman to fall and be injured.

Another example is where someone is clearing their own property and tosses snow onto a sidewalk or road that was already plowed or otherwise free of snow or ice.

It may not seem like a complicated thing — either someone caused the snow or ice to be there or they didn’t — but it is actually more difficult to determine than it seems. For example, in one of the seminal Massachusetts cases on snow & ice, Sullivan v. Town of Brookline, 416 Mass. 825 (1994), the court determined that just because someone working for the City of Brookline had shoveled the snow and “uncovered” the ice underneath, causing the plaintiff to fall and be hurt, it was still a “natural” accumulation of ice and thus the city of Brookline was found not responsible for the man’s injury. Even though the shoveling by the city uncovered the ice, it did not create it. This gives you an idea of how tricky this sort of determination can be.

In general, if a danger is “Open and Obvious” you have a duty to avoid it. If it is a “Clear and Present” danger, the landowner has a duty to fix the problem as soon as he knew or should have known of it. The bottom line with most cases is that the landowner must exercise “Reasonable Care” to keep people on his property safe.

If you fall and are hurt on the snow and ice, try to remember where you were, what sort of property was around, and what the conditions were where and when you fell. The more you can remember about this the easier it will be to tell if there is a viable claim. For example, if you have any photographs of the area or conditions at the time of your injury, or the names of any witnesses, it can be very helpful.

Some Factors to Consider if You are Injured on Snow or Ice:

  • Landlord’s Property: Keep in mind that a landlord has a higher standard of care to a tenant than a landowner does to the general public. Also, there may be something in your lease that establishes a duty for the landlord to keep walkways clear of snow and ice.
  • Public or Private Property: It can sometimes be important where you were injured, who was responsible for maintaining it, and what the property is used for. Your lawyer can investigate this for you, but the more you can figure out in advance the more helpful it is to your attorney.
  • Weather Conditions: The weather conditions on the day that your injury occurred could be important. If you fell on a patch of ice when the rest of the roads and sidewalks were completely clear, the odds are higher that it is an “unnatural” accumulation. If you fell in the middle of a snowstorm, it could be harder to make a claim. Again, your lawyer can investigate this for you. Keep track of what you remember about the conditions on the day of your injury, or even try to find a newspaper or other report about the weather that day, if it accurately reflects the conditions. Again, the more information you have the easier it will be to determine the status of your situation.
  • What Caused the Accumulation of Snow and Ice: It could be very important how the snow or ice accumulated in the area of your injury. Did someone shovel it off their porch, garage or car and onto the sidewalk? Did you see water dripping off a roof and onto the ground? Was there a defect in the pavement that caused the accumulation of ice or snow? How the ice or snow accumulated can be critical to making a claim.
  • Serious Injury: How badly you were hurt can also factor in to whether or not you want to pursue a claim. Once you have seen a health care professional and had your needs taken care of, talk to an attorney, who can help determine whether it is worth it to pursue a claim. Just as sometimes people are injured without anyone being at fault, sometimes people did something obviously wrong but the injury they caused is not really serious. Only an experienced attorney can help you make that determination. Keep in mind that sometimes health problems arise days or weeks after the initial injury. Also keep in mind that a good attorney may be able to educate you regarding your options even if they cannot personally take your case.
  • No Fault Insurance: Some property insurance policies have a provision for “no fault” payment of medical bills related to any injury occurring on the premises. Ask your lawyer to investigate this possibility.

Conclusion About Falls on Ice and Snow and Personal Injury Claims

As noted, many different facts come into play when determining whether or not a fall on snow or ice is a viable personal injury claim. Talk to an attorney who can help you determine what your rights are and what you should do to preserve them. Keep in mind that if you do have a claim, it is often an insurance company that will pay it off, not the property owner personally, so you don’t necessarily need to feel bad about pursuing your rights. Always remember that your health and proper medical care should be a priority. You can sort out the details later with your lawyer.

For more information or a free confidential case review, contact a personal injury lawyer at Diller Law by calling (617) 523-7771, or filling out the form on the right of this page.