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Your Icy Sidewalk Could Lead to a Lawsuit in Massachusetts

We're about midway through the icy driveway season (or icy front steps season), which means you've successfully avoided a lawsuit during the first half of the winter. So congratulations!

The bad news is that you still have about a month before the temperature will be consistently above freezing. Luckily, there's still time to prepare yourself so you can prevent a slip and fall lawsuit.

We've all seen it happen before: icy walkway, a person slips, his feet go over his head and he hits but or back or head on the ground. But if he doesn't stand back up, you could have a legal problem on your hands.

The first question you're probably asking at this point is, why is this my fault? Well, if you own the property then you have certain responsibilities.

If you invited someone to your house for a party or just to hang out, then you have a duty to protect them from known hazards. That includes an icy driveway or walkway where they could slip.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court actually ruled on this issue a few years back. They held that property owners can be held liable for for the buildup of snow and ice on sidewalks adjoining their property. Owners must act with reasonable care, which may include shoveling, salting, or warning people about black ice, for example.

But what if the person who gets hurt is a trespasser?

In general, you don't have much responsibility for someone who's on your property without permission. But if you know that trespassing happens often, you could be liable for known hazards, like ice.

Still, you're more likely to have someone you know injured on your steps during the winter than a random stranger. That doesn't mean you're safe from lawsuits.

We're not saying your friends are jerks, but their insurance companies may want someone else to pay the bills if an injury happens on your property. And all your friends have insurance, since it was the law in Massachusetts long before Obamacare.

The best course of action is to avoid this issue altogether by keeping your driveway and steps clear of ice and snow. Or just don't invite any friends over until winter is officially over.

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