Injured On Business Property
All property owners in Massachusetts owe a duty of care to guests and must act with reasonable care in addressing dangerous conditions on their property so people don’t get hurt.
Failure to do so is a form of premises liability and resulting injuries may be compensable via settlement or litigation.
The Boston premises liability attorneys at the Attorney Injury Group know that duties of care are held by all property owners. Businesses that invite people onto their property for purposes of commerce owe the highest duty to ensure patron safety.
This does not mean your case will be easy to win. Just because you suffered injury on business property won’t automatically entitle you to collect damages. There are several elements that are specific to proving these cases.
The standard of proof generally depends on entrant status.
- Invitees. Patrons to a store are known as “invitees” under Massachusetts law, and they are owed the highest level of care. Property owners have to inspect regularly to make sure there are no hazards, that identified hazards are corrected or alternatively visitors are warned of them.
- Licensees. These are those who have permission to be on site, but not for commercial purposes. They are owed an intermediate duty of care. Property owners or property managers need to correct any known or knowable dangers or to warn guests of them, but there isn’t necessarily a need for regular inspection.
- Trespassers. These are people who do not have permission to be on the property, and they are generally owed the lowest duty of care. The one exception would be “attractive nuisances” known to draw trespassers. In these cases, the duty of care is heightened.
Your claim may be challenged by various assertions, including that the danger was obvious and therefore plaintiff had a duty to avoid it; that injuries were not caused by the accident (rather by something else); or that injuries weren’t as serious as plaintiff alleges.
Contacting an experienced property injury lawyer to review your case as soon as possible after the incident is imperative. Lawsuits must be filed within three years, per the Massachusetts statute of limitations on personal injury cases. However, it’s best to have an attorney involved as soon as possible to collect and preserve relevant evidence.
A slip-and-fall is a specific type of premises liability claim that alleges a transient substance (liquid, ice, oil, etc.) created a hazardous condition on the floor leading to a fall.
Business owners are not always responsible for immediately cleaning every substance that might cause someone to slip and fall. Neither, however, can they be held responsible for an open and obvious hazard people can reasonably be expected to see and avoid.
However, property owners do have a responsibility to carefully maintain the site. Generally, that means:
- The property owner caused the condition or knew about the danger (actual knowledge) or should have known about it (constructive knowledge);
- The property owner failed to timely address the hazard or warn customers about it (i.e., with a “wet floor” sign);
- The danger was not open or obvious to the patron;
- Patron sustained injuries as a proximate result of that fall.
If you have suffered injury due to a slip-and-fall in Boston, consult with an experienced injury attorney to determine if you have a valid claim for compensation.
In some cases, property owners may be held responsible for third-party criminal action that occur on site if those acts were foreseeable and property owner failed to take reasonable action to prevent it.
These cases are subset of premises liability, and the cause of action is known as negligent security.
Generally speaking, courts are reticent to hold businesses responsible for the criminal acts of someone else. The key in negligent security cases is proving property owner owed a duty to provide reasonable security measures in order to protect certain people from foreseeable acts of harm by others. The idea is the crime would not have occurred but for the failure to property owners to take these measures.
For example, hotels and apartment complex owners should make sure entrances have functional locks or other bars to entry. Nightclubs and bars should have enough staff on duty to protect patrons if someone gets unruly or violent. Parks and shopping centers should make sure there is adequate lighting, security cameras or other deterrents in parking lots or areas known to attract trouble.
In these cases, business owners may be liable for injuries sustained in cases of:
- Sexual assault
- False imprisonment
- Homicide/attempted homicide
Establishing a pattern of similar prior crimes at the site or in the area is also essential to negligent security claims in Boston.
There are approximately 6,300 dog bite-related injuries reported every year among Massachusetts residents, according to state health officials.
Of those dog bite cases that resulted in emergency department visits, most are children. The most common injuries they sustain are to the:
Among adults, the most common injuries were to the:
Claims for damages are most often paid through home owner insurance policies. In fact, they account for approximately one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute. These claims resulted in $530 million in payouts nationally in 2014.
Mass. Ann. Law ch. 140, Section 155 details Massachusetts’ strict liability for damage caused by dogs, as well as the presumption and burden of proof. The Commonwealth takes a hard line in favor of victims of dog bites, and is deemed one of the strictest in the nation, especially where children are concerned.
The statute holds owners/keepers of dogs are liable for damages caused by dog bites in pretty much every instance, except where victim was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog or trespassing or committing some other crime. If the victim was younger than age 7, it’s presumed he or she was not trespassing or teasing/tormenting/abusing the animal.
Struck By Object
Years ago, stores used to stock excess inventory in the back or in warehouses.
That has changed, and many stores now stock these items in the shopping area, with some aisles literally stacked floor-to-ceiling. This is generally to save costs and be more efficient for the stores. However, it can also be more dangerous for patrons when those items topple.
A patron who suffers injury after being struck by object, may have grounds to file a premises liability lawsuit.
Some examples of instances in which injuries resulting from struck-by objects may be the result of store negligence:
- Unsecured merchandise (lack of safety ties, security bars, fencing, etc.)
- Poor employee training or supervision (workers not trained on safe and proper stocking or removal methods)
- High stacking (resulting in unstable stacks and requiring patrons to climb on shelves or use ladders or stretch to reach products)
- Failure to warn (not blocking off aisles or using a spotter while stacking)
When serious injuries result from these scenarios, injured victims should contact an attorney for advice on how to receive compensation.
Snow and Ice
Massachusetts is no stranger to nasty winter weather. The last few years have been especially wearisome. Boston had a record 90.2 inches fall in just a 30-day span during winter 2015.
Such weather results in numerous hazards – from perilous spikes of icicles hanging from buildings to accumulations of ice and snow on sidewalks, in parking lots and near business entrances.
Property owners – including local government – owe a duty of care to take reasonable action to prevent injury resulting from these foreseeable conditions. However, the fact someone slipped and fell on ice does not automatically entitle them to compensation.
The 2010 case of Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. altered the rule of law in Massachusetts by finding property owners have a legal property to shovel and treat snow and ice.
The Commonwealth spells out numerous stipulations pertaining to premises liability stemming from snow and ice accidents and injuries.
To name a few:
- Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 40, Section 21 allows towns to create bylaws relative to snow and ice on buildings and sidewalks.
- Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 84, Section 15 indicates a local government or individual obligated to repair defects on walkways may be held liable for injuries sustained by those defects.
- Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 84, Section 21 holds a person who suffers injury due to ice or snow on private property has 30 days in which to notify the owner of that injury.
- Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 85, Section 5 stipulates cities and towns may require private property owners to remove snow and ice from sidewalks and other walkways abutting their property. The next section allows the town to remove ice for nearby landowners, and then charge them for it.
- 105 CMR 410.452 spells out landlord and tenant responsibilities for the safe condition of walkways. That includes responsibility of the owner to keep all stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free from snow and ice (except where occupant has sole access/control of that area not shared by other tenants).
The viability of each case snow and ice injury case in Boston will depend on the specific facts.
Properties – both public and private – may be hazardous to visitors for a number of reasons.
Some potentially dangerous conditions on a property that could result in injury to guests may include:
- Broken stairwells
- Uneven walkways
- Falling merchandise
- Poor lighting
- Defective playground equipment
- Slippery floors
- Unprotected swimming pools
- Broken locks or gates
- Lack of needed security
To meet the proof burden of showing the condition was dangerous, plaintiff needs to show the condition created a substantial risk of injury when the property was used as intended and with minimal or no contributory negligence on the part of the person who was hurt.
Generally speaking, property owners owe very little duty of care to protect trespassers from harm.
The only notable exception to this is when children are involved and the property has an “attractive nuisance.”
An attractive nuisance is a dangerous condition on a property that is likely to attract children, as youths are known to be unable to appreciate the risk posed by such conditions.
Some examples of attractive nuisance include:
- Swimming pools
- Sand piles
- Old, discarded appliances
- Abandoned cars
- Piles of lumber
Applicable conditions are not limited to these, but these are some of the more common.
Generally, plaintiff needs to show condition existed in a place where owner knows or has reason to know children will likely trespass, where owner knows or should know the condition is dangerous and may result in the risk serious bodily injury to those children, where owner recognizes children aren’t likely to realize the danger in that condition and that owner fails to use reasonable care in protecting the children, where the burden of doing so is slight compared to the risk for the children.
If you are unsure whether your situation meets these criteria, contact an experienced injury lawyer for more information.