Massachusetts Appellate Court Affirms Defense Verdict in Premises Liability Trip and Fall Case

pothole in groundIn the recent case of Peters v. Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc., the plaintiff was a deliveryman who alleged that he suffered severe injuries when he tripped on a pothole and fell while making a delivery at the defendant’s grocery store location. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged a cause of action for negligence, asserting a premises liability theory. According to Massachusetts law, property owners have a duty to keep their property in good repair and to fix any known dangerous conditions in a reasonable manner. If the landowner is not able to repair the condition, he or she must take steps to warn guests about the potential danger.

At the close of trial on the matter, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed, contending that the trial court erred when it provided five specific jury instructions before the jury began its deliberations.

On appeal to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court, the court first noted that during the trial court’s instruction regarding the property owner’s duty to the deliveryman and regarding whether the condition on which he allegedly tripped was open and obvious, the trial court erred. The instruction provided that “a person in control of the premises is not required to supply a place of maximum safety, but only one which would be safe to a person who exercises such care as the circumstances would reasonably indicate.” According to the court, the instruction conflated the jury’s requirement to consider the landowner’s duty to the deliveryman with its consideration of whether the plaintiff acted in a contributorily negligent manner.

The appellate court continued by noting that under Massachusetts law, a property owner is not relieved from fixing or warning against an open and obvious danger if he or she knew or had reason to know that guests may not obey warnings against the condition, even if the failure to abide by the warning is the result of the plaintiff’s own negligence. The landowner must still take steps to protect guests against the dangerous condition, including when he or she has reason to know that the guest’s own lack of attention or distraction may be the reason that he or she does not discover the open and obvious condition.

Ultimately, the appellate court ruled that while the trial court should not have provided the instruction about maximum security, its additional instructions to the jury regarding breach of duty, which clearly separated the issues of breach and comparative negligence, sufficiently remedied the error.

At the Law Offices of John S. Moffa, we have assisted numerous Massachusetts residents with bringing a claim against a property owner who failed to meet his or her duty to maintain his or her premises in a safe condition. Bringing a premises liability claim often requires a diligent investigation into the facts and circumstances giving rise to the injury. Our experienced team of legal professionals can assist you along every step of the way and assert your right to the compensation that you deserve. Call us at 1-800-446-4485 or contact us online to set up your free consultation now.

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