Who is Liable in a Premises Liability Case in Massachusetts?

Slip and fall accidents are prevalent throughout Massachusetts. When someone slips on a patch of icy outside their apartment or trips on a broken floor tile in a store, they could be entitled to financial compensation if another party’s negligence contributed to or caused the dangerous condition. Depending on the circumstances, an injured person could file a lawsuit against a store manager, a building owner, or a homeowner.

These kinds of personal injury lawsuits fall under the category of premises liability. To hold another person responsible for your injuries, you will have to demonstrate that they owed you a duty to maintain the property, their conduct contributed or caused the dangerous condition, and that your behavior did not play a role in the accident. Our Boston premises liability lawyers understand the complexities and problems associated with these types of challenging cases.

If you believe a property owner, manager, or landlord’s negligence caused your injury, call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan to schedule an appointment. Our number is (617) 925-6407.

Determining if a Property Owner is Liable in a Massachusetts Premises Liability Case

Just because you tripped on a carpet in an office or slipped on a wet floor in a grocery store does not mean that a property owner or manager could be held legally responsible for your injuries or financial losses. Liability is a legal concept and must be proved. Typically, our Boston personal injury lawyers will look at two factors.

Did the Owner or Manager Keep the Property Safe?

Property owners and managers in Massachusetts are responsible for ensuring that their property does not present an unreasonable risk of injury by construction, design, condition, or maintenance. If the owner was aware or should have reasonably known that an unsafe condition existed, they could be held liable. This liability extends to failing to repair or address an unsafe condition or taking action that actually worsened the condition. For example, if a grocery store manager was aware of a spill in an aisle, they have a responsibility to have the spill cleaned or place appropriate warning signs until the issue is addressed.

Did the Person Who Was Injured Use the Property in an Ordinary or Accepted Manner?

Premises liability cases are difficult because the behavior of the injured victim is usually questioned. Any conduct that is outside the norm or not reasonable could impact liability. For example, if someone runs down a staircase and trips on a broken stair, the property owner might not be held responsible even though a hazard existed.

What Makes a Property Owner or Manage Liable in Massachusetts?

Premises liability cases are very fact-dependent. Determining liability requires establishing the type of relationship that existed between the property owner and victim, along with what actions the property owner took or failed to take. There are some situations where liability is more obvious than others.

Open and Obvious Hazards

Some property has obvious hazards. In these situations, the property owner’s duty might not appear as clear. As stated above, an injured person might be held responsible for their injuries if they acted abnormally. Another question that comes up is, if a risk is readily apparent, does the injured person assume the risk if the danger is obvious? According to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Dos Santos v. Coleta, 81 Mass. Ct. 1 (2013), a property owner has the duty to fix an obvious hazard. According to the court, a landowner must remedy a hazard when there is a foreseeable risk of injury. It does not matter if the hazard is obvious. However, in these circumstances, a jury will likely divide liability between the injured plaintiff and the property owner.

Landlord Liability in Massachusetts

Landlords owe their tenants and their guests a duty of care. If a landlord was aware of or should have been aware of a hazardous condition, they could be held accountable if someone is injured. For example, a landlord could be held liable if a tenant was hurt because of a missing handrail, poor lighting, or a defective step. The likelihood of being held accountable will increase if a tenant notified the landlord of the existing hazardous condition. Furthermore, landlords have a duty to conduct regular inspections of common areas to ensure they are free of hidden hazards.

Landlords in Massachusetts also must remove snow and ice from walkways, driveways, and other common areas. Under the law, this responsibility cannot be delegated to the tenants of a building unless the area is exclusive to one unit. If two tenants share an entrance or exit, the responsibility falls solely on the landlord. In addition, most Massachusetts towns and cities have local laws that require property owners to clear the municipal sidewalks in front of their premises of any accumulated snow and ice.

Limited Premises Liability in Massachusetts

In a typical case, our Somerville premises liability lawyer will have to establish that a property owner, manager, or landlord was negligent. However, there are certain situations where an injured person’s options will be limited because of the location of the accident or their conduct.

Public Ways

If you are injured because of a defect in a public way in Massachusetts, your potential monetary recovery is limited to $5,000. If your conduct contributed to the accident, you could be barred from any compensation. Additionally, if you were injured on a public way, you must report the accident to the appropriate municipality within thirty days of the accident.

Recreational Activities

Massachusetts does not impose liability on a property owner if you are on the property free of charge and engaged in recreational activities. Under this law, injured victims are often prohibited from recovering for injures that occurred in parks or other public properties. For this limitation to apply, the injured victim must have been engaged in a recreational activity.


If you are on another’s property without permission, the property owner does not have a duty to keep the property in a particular condition. Trespassers are not entitled to recover for injuries that occurred while they were trespassing.

There is an exception under Massachusetts law for children. The attractive nuisance doctrine requires that landowners and managers exercise reasonable care to protect potential child trespassers from any dangerous conditions that could cause serious injuries. For this duty to apply, the property owner must know or should have known that children were likely to trespass on the property. In addition, the property owner must know or should have known that the property posed an unreasonable risk of harm. Additionally, the injured party must prove that the property owner failed to take reasonable precautions to protect the child or eliminate the danger.

Contact Our Massachusetts Premises Liability Lawyers to Review Your Case

The Cambridge premises liability lawyers at the Law Office of John J. Sheehan understand the physical pain, emotional stress, and financial strain associated with an unexpected injury. Holding a property owner or manager liable requires skill, evidence, and a law firm dedicated to the details. To determine if you have a personal injury claim, call our office at (617) 925-6407.

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