In 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.