As we enter the full swing of snowfall in Massachusetts we are breaking out the shovels and salt. Shovel and salting keeps us safe from injuries but it should also be noted that it protects us from being exposed to liability. As snow falls and storms hit, property owners are legally obligated to keep their property safe, clean, and free of ice.
As a property owner, if you do not keep your public walkway or sidewalk free of snow and ice and someone slips and falls, you could potentially face legal action. Generally speaking, property owners are responsible for maintaining their property and removing any hazards under the legal theory of premises liability. This includes hazards outside the home like an icy private walkway. Failing to maintain a safe property could potentially open the door for a lawsuit against you for negligence.
In Massachusetts, laws have been enacted that make the landowner responsible for keeping public sidewalks clear of ice and snow. A violation of this law can lead to a fine in addition to any monetary damages you may have to pay to settle a lawsuit.
Of course, this does not mean that you have to constantly clear snow as it falls. Some jurisdictions require that a “reasonable amount of time” pass by before clearing a sidewalk that leads to liability for an injury while other jurisdictions vary on the issue. Consulting a local attorney to learn more about your obligations as a property owner is responsible way to protect yourself against potential liability.