New England weather can be anything but predictable. We have seen snow fall before Halloween and unexpected blizzards after Easter. The best thing you can do to prepare for a New England winter is to pick up your belongings and catch the next flight to Florida or Aruba, but for those who wish to endure the long winter months at home it is important to understand Massachusetts’ laws about clearing snow and ice from your property.
Slip and Fall Injuries
The statistics regarding injuries due to slipping and falling on ice in the United States are shocking. Each year, over one third of adults in the United States suffer serious injuries due to slipping and falling on ice. Roughly 600,000 adults are hospitalized due to these injuries, and nearly 20,000 adults will die due to these injuries.
To ensure these injuries don’t happen on your property, it is never too early to begin preparation for New England winters. With that in mind, Massachusetts has minimum standards for property owners to bear in mind with respect to clearing snow and ice from their respective properties.
Massachusetts Laws on Clearing Snow
Both landlords and tenants should know their responsibilities when it comes to snow and ice removal. Pursuant to 105 CMR 410. 452, property owners shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition, and they shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies, and bridges free of snow and ice. However, if a dwelling has an independent means of egress, not shared with other occupants, an occupant can be held responsible for keeping that area free of snow and ice, but you need a written agreement outlining the occupant’s responsibilities.
Essentially, an owner or a tenant, dependent on their mutual agreement, must keep the property in reasonably safe conditions when hit with snow and ice conditions.
Liability Concerns for Property Owners
Prior to 2010, Massachusetts’ property owners could only be held liable for injuries in slip and fall cases caused by the “unnatural” accumulation of snow or ice. In the case of Emmanuel Papadopoulos & another vs. Target Corporation & another, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled for the abolishment of the long-standing distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” accumulations of snow and ices in slip and fall cases.
Papadopoulos v. Target 457 Mass. 368 (2010)
In the case of Papadopoulos v. Target, the plaintiff slipped and fell on ice while walking through the parking lot of a Target store. A plow had come through the parking lot previously and piled snow onto a median. The snow dripped off the median and formed the ice puddle that the plaintiff slipped on. The court ruled that the ice had come off the median “naturally,” as snow piles have the tendency to drip.
Papadopoulos’ appeal of the decision spurred the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to reject the long-standing distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” accumulations of snow and ice in slip and fall cases. The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that regardless of the type of accumulation of snow and ice (“natural” or “unnatural”), a landowner owes a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition given the circumstances, and should treat the condition no differently than he would in any other liability action.
Time Limits for Personal Injury Claims
The statute of limitations for torts in Massachusetts is 3 years. However, an injured party should place the person or Mass. Gen. Laws chapter 84, sections18-20 state a person must notify the county, city, or town of injury or damage from snow or ice on a public way within 30 days. Similarly, Mass. Gen. Laws chapter 84, section 21 states a person must notify the owner of private property of injury or damage from snow or ice on their premises within 30 days.
In each instance, whether public or private, the injured person shall report the said injury within 30 days with notice of a name and place of residence of the person injured, the time, place and cause of said injury or damage; and if the said county, city, town or person does not pay the amount thereof, he may recover the same in an action of tort if brought within three years after the date of such injury or damage.
Understanding Slip and Fall Lawsuits
Whether you are a victim or a potential defendant, it is important to gather as much information as quickly and efficiently as possible. Photographs and witness statements can be essential to proving a case. Just because the statute of limitations for cases is three years does not mean that you should sit idly and wait before filing suit.
Obtaining Legal Help
If you have been involved in a slip and fall accident, contact the Murphy Law Group today at (978) 686-3200. The Murphy Law Group has extensive experience in litigating slip and fall cases in Boston, North Andover and the surrounding Merrimack Valley areas.
Personal injury cases are constantly dismissed in court when a victim is uninformed of the time constraints for filing his or her case. There are many ways in which attorneys can assist those who have been harmed to receive compensation for their injuries. However it is the job of the injured to be active in seeking a lawyer to file a complaint.
If you have suffered bodily harm from an injury or accident, and someone else might be personally responsible for the harm done to you, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. Such accidents can include anything from motor vehicles, tripping/falling, work-related or assault claims. However in order to avoid dismissal, you must file suit in a timely manner. The deadline to file suit is known as a “statute of limitations.” With certain exceptions, the statute of limitations on personal injury cases in Massachusetts is three (3) years.
Mass. Gen. Laws. chapter 260 §2A, states except as otherwise provided, actions of tort, actions of contract to recover for personal injuries, and actions of replevin, shall be commenced within three years next after the cause action accrues.
For most cases, the three-year limit time begins on the date of the accident. In some exceptional cases, if you suffered an injury that could not be detected until some time after the accident then the three-year limit time may not begin until this discovery time. For injury claims against a city, county, or state government agency you have two years under Massachusetts law to file a formal presentment of a claim, and three years to file a lawsuit.
The Murphy Law Group has successfully handled a wide range of personal injury cases. If you or someone you love has been injured, the Murphy Law Group can help you get through these difficult times.
Dan Murphy of the Massachusetts-based Murphy Law Group speaks with John Maher about the common and rarer types of personal injury, what you need to do after a personal injury to build the best case, the statute of limitations on such suits, and why you need to retain an attorney as soon as possible after an injury.
John Maher: Hi I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Dan Murphy of the Murphy Law Group in North Andover and Boston Massachusetts. And today we’re talking about Types of Personal Injury Cases. Welcome, Dan.
Dan Murphy: Thanks for having me, John.
Common Personal Injuries
John: Sure. So Dan what are some of the most common types of personal injury cases?
Dan: Any time an injury occurs, there’s a possibility that it may result in a personal injury case. You often hear about slip and falls, automobile cases, things that result from those types of situations. But it’s really a wide spectrum of any time an injury occurs. It may occur as a result of, for example, a defective product that you’re handling, or it may result from a spill of a chemical when you’re opening something that you’re not supposed to come in contact with. So there are any number of things that that can cause a personal injury case to ultimately occur. But the very basic premise is that anytime an injury occurs, there may be fault.
John: What are some of maybe the more unusual ones that you’ve seen in terms of how somebody was injured?
Dan: Well, I handled the case several years ago. That was a tragic case as a result of a young man who was told at work to use a torch to open up at the top of an old drum that had been delivered on site by a chemical company. As soon as he hit the top of the drum it exploded, and there were no warnings on the outside of the drum suggesting that this could occur and caused him serious burns on his body. Ultimately that resulted into in a lawsuit against the chemical company.
How Does the Type of Personal Injury Change a Lawsuit?
John: How did these types of personal injury cases differ in terms of how you handle them, whether it’s an auto accident or a slip and fall or a product liability case?
Dan: Well the most important thing is to be diligent from the beginning. And when I say that I mean oftentimes you’re — the injured person isn’t in a position to do very much. If for example they’re being taken away from the scene of an accident in an ambulance.
But the people around them that they may be talking to, family members, friends– whomever they’re closely associated with–should take steps to make sure that information is gathered around the site of the incident. Who was there to witness the incident? Were the police there? Is there a police report? If the car is going to be taken away—[see if there is the] Possibility of taking photos there, or taking photos at the junkyard that the car was taken to, before the car is completely destroyed. If there are skid marks, take photo photographs of the skid marks. The types of things that may be evidence. Ultimately in a lawsuit, if they’re preserved around the time of the incident they’re very helpful.
John: Like the lack of a warning label on that drum that you’re just talking about, that would be the kind of thing. If you could get a photograph of a similar drum that shows that there’s no warning on it that would be helpful?
Dan: Right. I mean with that one, in particular, there were a number of drums that came from the same source, and you were able to look at the photos to see that there were no warnings displayed on those other drums as well.
What to Do After a Personal Injury?
John: Right. What should someone do or perhaps not do after they’re injured?
Dan: The one thing that you don’t want to do is, as an example again using a car accident as an example: If you were in a car accident and your car was hit by another car, for example, and the insurance company for the person that hit you contacted you–it would be unwise for you to start having direct conversations with that insurance company, where you may be making statements that may be used against you, down the road in a potential litigation. You should always do what you need to do in terms of covering yourself with your own insurance company.
You need to do obviously what is necessary for you to do, for proper medical care. But you should seek legal guidance as soon as possible, and a lawyer would tell you, “Whatever you do talk to me, make statements to me. But don’t make any statements to any other third parties, until such time as we’re ready for you to make such a statement.”
John: If you do get that call from that other insurance company it’s okay to just say, “I’m not going to answer any of your questions, and I’ll have my lawyer contact you.” Or something like that?
Dan: You can very politely say that, “you’re not in a position to discuss what occurred with them.” If you’ve already retained counsel you can refer them to your counsel. If you haven’t retained counsel, just very politely take their telephone number and say that your counsel will get back to them once you’ve had an opportunity to retain counsel.”
Personal Injury Statute of Limitations
John: How much time do I have after I’ve been injured to bring a case against a party that’s caused me an injury? Is there a statute of limitations?
Dan: In Massachusetts the statute of limitations is three years. So you have three years from the time that the incident occurred to actually bring the action. But that doesn’t mean that you should sit on your hands and wait for three years and wait for things to develop. Clearly, the earlier that you’re able to take action to preserve evidence and to start putting things together and put the other side on notice–so, that they can put their insurance company on notice–the better off you’re going to be.
John: What about the case where, I might not know immediately after I’ve been injured what the long term consequences of that injury will be. Should I go ahead and bring the case right away or is it is it better to sort of wait and see how much those medical bills are going to stack up or something like that?
Dan: That’s a very good question. And that’s why you want to have counsel involved from the beginning. If you have counsel involved in the beginning, your counsel will be able to walk you through those steps, and your counsel– a good counsel–is going to tell you, “Your biggest job is to get better. Let me worry about the timing of bringing an action. The timing of making a demand. “And so forth.
Typically what would occur in a situation like that, if the client was dealing with our office, is that we would we would put the other side on notice that there was a potential cause of action. We would tell the other side where we were in terms of medical treatment, and if the long-term prognosis had yet to be determined, we would continue to advise the other side and their insurance company about how we’re moving forward and how things are progressing. We would collect all the medicals along the line, while the injured person is getting better, and at some point in time we would have the ability to then make a demand. Typically you would make a demand before you put the case into a suit.
John: Okay, all right that’s great information Thanks again for speaking with me today Dan. And for more information about the Murphy Law Group visit the firm’s web site at www.mlgllc.com or call 978-686-3200.
Dan Murphy of the Massachusetts-based Murphy Law Group speaks with John Maher about the steps in a personal injury case. He walks you through the first steps after being injured, the purpose of a demand letter, and when it is time to start the litigation or mediation process.
John Maher: Hi I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Dan Murphy of the Murphy law group in North Andover and Boston, Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about the steps in a personal injury case. Welcome Dan.
Dan Murphy: Morning John.
Starting a Personal Injury Case
John: So Dan how does a personal injury case commence?
Dan: Well there are steps that are taken prior to the commencement of an actual lawsuit. Once an injury occurs, and the attorney has had the ability to evaluate the situation, the attorney will typically put the other side on notice if they think that there’s a potential claim and ask the other side to notify their own insurance company.
Once that is done the process would be to work to see how the injuries have affected the injured person, in terms of their medical costs, loss of wages, et cetera. Then you would determine at some point what an appropriate demand would be to be making upon the insurance company representing the person that caused the injury.
There are a number of steps that are taken prior to even getting to that demand. Obviously, there needs to be an evaluation of potential liability because any demand letter would have to expressly state why you felt as though the other party was at fault for causing your client an injury, and that would be one part of ultimately what you would put into a demand letter.
The second part would be the damages part, and the damages part would come from an evaluation of what occurred as a result of the accident, the medical costs that were incurred, the injuries, the pain and suffering incurred by the victim, the loss of wages, and any continuing long-term effects of those injuries.
Why Not File a Personal Injury Case Immediately?
John: What would be some reasons why I wouldn’t want to just file a suit immediately?
Dan: Well, once you file a lawsuit, it is then turned over to the insurance company’s attorneys, and you begin to incur costs immediately. Prior to filing the lawsuit–if you make a demand and you can get into a dialogue with the insurance company with or without the insurance company’s counsel–you will get an opportunity to see how they are evaluating the case, and see whether or not they’d be willing to potentially resolve the case prior to your having to incur any cost in a litigation.
Next Steps in a Personal Injury Case
John: Then the next step would be to file that demand letter. Is the demand letter when the suit begins or is that separate from the actual suit?
Dan: No, the demand letter is done once you’ve had the opportunity to evaluate one: liability, and secondly you are in a position to state what a reasonable demand would be for damages. You’ve had — typically the victim will have finished whatever medical care they had to incur. You’ll have an idea as to what the long-term effects of the injury were. Obviously, you’ll be able to describe the pain and suffering that the victim went through as well as loss of wages and changes in enjoyment of life. You put all that into your evaluation of damages, and you make a demand that it again has two parts to it.
One says this is why we believe that your client is liable. And the second part is this is the amount that we demand in the area of damages.
John: Then what else happens before the suit? do you wait for some response from the other party?
Dan: Usually, you typically put a 30 day period on that for a response. if you get a reasonable response and you feel as though it makes sense to have a dialogue with the insurance company prior to filing the lawsuit, Then you go down that road. If on the other hand the insurance company simply denies liability and/or does not recognize that your client has suffered some serious damages then you simply file the lawsuit at that point.
After Filing a Personal Injury Claim
John: Then what are the steps that happen after the lawsuit is filed?
Dan: Once the law suit is filed, the process would be that the insurance company’s council would respond with either an answer to the lawsuit or a motion to dismiss.
And then once you get beyond that process, you go into the discovery phase process which is simply an exchange of information. But that can take a fair amount of time.
These cases, once they’re put in to suit, the process within the courts themselves does not…is not a particularly expedient process. It takes a period of time. And unfortunately with a lot of these personal injury cases, the litigation may take on a life of its own, which again is why as counsel you always want to look for an opportunity to resolve the case, to get an efficient resolution for your client rather than allow it to just simply take on a life of its own, and to go on for years and years and years.
John: What are some possible ways that a lawsuit could be resolved?
Dan: Well again, you start with the demand, if the demand doesn’t go into place because you’ve not gotten their attention, perhaps the filing of the lawsuit will, or something during discovery will.
When you feel as though it’s appropriate you suggest potential mediation. That is a way for a third party to be involved to evaluate the case both from the plaintiff’s perspective and from the defendant’s perspective, and to try to get the parties together for a resolution of the case that will bring the case to closure for your client.
John: How do I pay a lawyer for a personal injury case? It seems like there’s a lot of steps involved. Obviously a lot of time. You said that there’s costs being incurred, you know, already right out of the gate as soon as you get a lawyer involved. How do I pay for all of that?
Dan: Well typically, the legal fees are done on a contingency fee basis. That means that you sign a contract with your lawyer, and your lawyer says that your lawyer will agree to forego being paid for their legal services until such time as the case is resolved, and will accept typically one-third of whatever the case settles for.
John: All right. That’s great information, Dan. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Dan: Thank you, John.
John: For more information about the Murphy Law Group visit their web site at www.mlgllc.com or call 978-686-3200.