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Polar Vortex in New England – What You Need to Know

snow-covered-street-685491-mThe start of 2014 has brought an extreme cold wave, known as a Polar Vortex, that has plagued the United States. Individuals from the Midwest to New England have been greatly impacted by this weather pattern. Snow has been falling in record amounts, falling faster than it can be dealt with, and the bitter cold has made it unbearable to be exposed to the outdoors for an extended period of time. This accumulation, coupled with periods of warmth, are a dangerous combination. After the snow melts and creates pools of water on sidewalks and roadways, the menacing mother nature of New England blows in and freezes these water sources. The result creates hazardous conditions for pedestrians who utilize public sidewalks and roadways.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 84, Section 15, provides the exclusive remedy against a city or town for injuries or damages caused by a defect in or upon a public way. Typically, if one is injured as a result of a defect on a sidewalk or roadway owned or operated by a city or town, there is a limited recovery of $5,000.00. Generally, a person’s right of recovery will be governed by this law if:

  1. he/she sustained “bodily injury or damage in his property . . .”;

  2. “by reason of a defect or a want of repair or a want of sufficient railing . . .”;

  3. while traveling;

  4. “in or upon a [public] way … .”

A “defect” is anything in the state or condition of the way that renders it unsafe or inconvenient for ordinary travel. This is not to say that the road or sidewalk need to be in perfect condition, but rather, reasonably safe. Imperfections in the road or sidewalk are considered to be expected and travelers should be aware of this. A defect may be a pothole, a roadway design, or a broken tree. However, snow or ice is NOT considered to be a defect. Under Chapter 84, section 17, “a municipality shall not be held liable for injuries sustained upon a public way due to snow or ice if, at the time of the accident, the way was otherwise “reasonably safe and convenient for travelers.” Put another way, if a traveler falls due to the snow or ice, he or she cannot typically recover against the municipality.

However, if there is a defective condition on the sidewalk or roadway which caused the injury, the presence of snow or ice will not preclude a possible recovery. It needs to be shown that the defective condition, and not the snow or ice, caused the damage to the person seeking recovery. Additionally, it is possible that the sidewalk could be under the control, supervision, and/or care of an adjacent homeowner or store owner. As such, recovery may be possible. An investigation, utilizing the services of the town or city’s assessors office may aid individuals in determining who was the owner of the parcel of land at the time of the potential injury.

For more information, please refer to the section on our website on slip and fall accidents. To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.