An eighty year old woman enters a funeral home to attend the funeral of a friend. As she makes her way to her destination, snow continues to fall as it had been doing for the past hour or two. After making her way up the stairs to the funeral home and through the entryway door, she wipes her feet on the carpet just inside the entrance of the funeral home. After taking one step off the carpet she falls in a 3′ x 4′ area of dirty water on a marble floor and suffers injuries. She brings suit against the owner of the funeral home claiming negligence, and specifically, a breach of a duty of care owed to her and other patrons by failing to recognize the danger of water that had been accumulating on a marble floor. After extensive litigation in the matter, a jury returned a verdict for the injured Plaintiff. However, on appeal, the decision was reversed and the court held that, due to the transitory nature of the premises, and the lack of evidence that the floor became peculiarly slippery when wet, the court could not find the landlord breached his duty to the Plaintiff.
Does the “transitory nature” of premises effect a person from recovering due to a fall of snow, water, or ice at the entranceway of a premises?
The court in Wexler v. Stanetsky Memorial Chapel of Brookline, Inc. (referred to above) held that it does prevent an individual from recovering money from a landlord or shop owner. The court held that the transitory conditions of the premises, and its use in normal wet weather, could not have been prevented. Additionally, “there was no evidence to indicate that the water on the floor was more than the, “results from the tramping of many feet in such a place . . . under the conditions of weather then existing.’”
However, after the landmark decision of Papadopoulos v. Target Corp. (mentioned in a previous blog post), there is some doubt as to whether Wexler is still controlling. Under Papadopoulos, a property owner has to act reasonable under all circumstances. This duty is the same with respect to all hazards, including those arising from weather related conditions. Little by little courts have chipped away at the precedent that Wexler has established. For instance, in Wexler, the Appeals Court held that given the persistent snowfall that had preceded the accident, it would have been impractical for the funeral home to have kept its entryway dry. In other cases however, the courts have held that in the absence of precipitation in “Biblical proportions”, a landowner or property owner’s duty of reasonable care exists to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Additionally, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has abandoned the distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” accumulations of snow and ice on which Wexler was based.
According to the National Safety Council, slip and falls are one of the leading causes of unintentional injuries in the United States. This accounts for over 9 million emergency department visits annually. A huge percentage of slip and falls occur in periods of bad weather- including rain, snow, ice, and sleet. As we are in the winter months please take precaution when entering and exiting businesses, homes, and other establishments.
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.