Massachusetts Appeals Court Reverses Summary Judgment for Defense in Black Ice Slip and Fall Case

Massachusetts law allows a business guest, invitee, or visitor to sue a property owner for injuries that he or she sustains as a result of the property owner’s failure to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Property owners must also make reasonable repairs to their premises while providing visitors with warnings about any dangerous conditions of which they knew or should have known. This seems like a straightforward standard, but it can get complicated when it comes to determining whether a property owner can be held liable for the type of injury that resulted.

In Fleming v. A Plus Auto Body, Inc., the plaintiff sued an auto body repair shop for injuries she sustained when she slipped and fell on a patch of ice located on the repair shop’s property and broke her leg. The defendant moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion.

On appeal, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the lower court’s ruling. First, the intermediate court stated that the plaintiff was on her way to pick up her vehicle from the repair shop. The plaintiff was exiting her rental car, which was parked on Walnut Street, when she slipped on the ice. The defendant argued that it did not own Walnut Street and therefore could not be held liable for the injuries the plaintiff sustained on the public way in front of its premises. The defendant also contended that there was no evidence in the record suggesting that it created the dangerous condition on the public sidewalk.

The appellate court reviewed the elements that the plaintiff must establish in a negligence claim:  the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; the defendant breached that duty; damages resulted from the defendant’s lack of care; and the plaintiff’s damages were causally connected to the breach. At the hearing on the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff offered unsworn statements from relatives indicating that they observed black ice originating from the defendant’s business that flowed into Walnut Street. Since these affidavits were unsworn, the lower court disregarded them in ruling on the motion for summary judgment. The appellate court concluded that the lower court judge did not abuse his discretion in disregarding these unsworn statements.

However, the appellate court noted that additional evidence in the record suggested a causal link between the repair shop’s activities and the existence of the ice. The plaintiff testified that the patch of ice appeared to travel from the corner where the defendant’s business was located to where her car was parked and that she had observed one of the repair shop’s employees using a hose to wash cars immediately in front of the establishment at least 25 times in the past. As a result, a reasonable inference could be drawn that the defendant created the dangerous icy condition. The appellate court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded the action back to the trial court for further proceedings.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At the Law Offices of John S. Moffa, our premises liability attorneys have assisted numerous Massachusetts residents with pursuing the settlement or the judgment that they deserve. We offer a free consultation to help you determine whether you have a strong legal claim, so call us at 1-800-446-4485 or contact us online to schedule your consultation.

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