Tuesday, July 27, 2010
As we approach a new year and a new semester of Torts, the (nerdy) mind turns to duty/no-duty cases. Happily, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has provided, with a new case eliminating the no-duty rule in connection with "natural" ice buildups, instead, consistent with the trend, holding the defendant to a general duty of reasonable care. The key language:
We now will apply to hazards arising from snow and ice the same obligation that a property owner owes to lawful visitors as to all other hazards: a duty to "act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probable seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk." Young v. Garwacki, 380 Mass. 162, 169 (1980), quoting Sargent v. Ross, 113 N.H. 388, 397-398 (1973). See Reardon v. Shimelman, 102 Conn. 383, 388 (1925) ("The duty of the landlord being to exercise reasonable care to prevent the occurrence of defective or dangerous conditions in the common approaches, the fact that a particular danger arose from the fall of snow or the freezing of ice can afford no ground of distinction"). This introduces no special burden on property owners. If a property owner knows or reasonably should know of a dangerous condition on its property, whether arising from an accumulation of snow or ice, or rust on a railing, or a discarded banana peel, the property owner owes a duty to lawful visitors to make reasonable efforts to protect lawful visitors against the danger. See Sheehan v. Roche Bros. Supermarkets, 448 Mass. 780, 782-784 (2007); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343 (1965). See also Reardon v. Shimelman, supra at 389 ("an accumulation of ice or snow upon a common approach to a tenement house may impose upon the landlord a liability for injuries due to it, provided he knew, or in the exercise of a reasonable oversight ought to have known, of the existence of a dangerous condition and failed to exercise reasonable care to provide against injury by reason of it").