Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts slip and fall case that was filed against the town of Leicester (the Town). The opinion highlights the importance of complying with all procedural rules when dealing with a government defendant. In this case, because the plaintiff failed to ensure that the Town was served with timely notice of her claim, the court concluded that the plaintiff lost her right to a remedy.

Under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (MTCA), before a citizen files a claim against a public entity, that person must send a “claim in writing to the executive officer of such public employer within two years after the date upon which the cause of action arose.” This is known as a presentment letter. Unless a plaintiff sends a presentment letter, they cannot pursue a claim against the government entity.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was picking up her son from school on January 19, 2016, when she slipped and fell while on school grounds. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff suffered a fractured knee and wrist. Exactly two years later, the plaintiff sent a presentment letter to the Town. The Town received the letter on January 22, 2016, and issued a formal statement denying liability on February 7, 2018. The next month, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit.

Massachusetts premises liability law provides injury victims with a way to recover for injuries they suffered because of a landowner or occupier’s negligence. Generally, the law requires that property owners take reasonable measures to maintain a safe environment. Liability for injuries depends on the type of accident, visitor, and whether the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition.

The most common types of accidents that lead to a premises liability lawsuit include injuries related to slip and falls, trips on broken steps or stairs, dog bites, inadequate lighting or maintenance, and swimming pool accidents. The duty a property owner owes to the injury victims may vary depending on whether the visitor was an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Finally, in most cases, the plaintiff must be able to establish that the property owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition.

Premises liability against negligent landlords can be challenging because landlords will often claim that they were not aware of the dangerous condition. However, landlords may be liable if the plaintiff establishes that the defective condition was under the landlord’s control, the landlord negligently or carelessly made repairs, or they concealed a dangerous situation. For example, according to a recent news report, a landlord in nearby New York state was sentenced to prison and will likely face civil charges for knowingly concealing a gas line that caused a deadly explosion. The gas company notified the landlord that a proposed gas line was unsafe and would not be approved; however, the landlord continued to rent units by siphoning gas from a neighboring building. The landlord instructed workers to turn off the gas when the gas company inspector was visiting. Moments after the gas company left the premises, the workers turned the gas back on, resulting in a huge blast causing two buildings to collapse and several injuries and deaths.

Massachusetts law requires that owners and managers of public and private businesses and properties maintain and secure their property to limit harm to their residents, guests, and patrons. Typically, land and property owners will face liability if they fail to meet their standard of care, and the failure creates a dangerous hazard and causes an injury. Massachusetts injury victims may be able to recover for the damages they sustained because of the hazardous condition.

Premises liability lawsuits often occur because of injuries from slip-and-falls, trip-and-falls, broken or poorly maintained entrances and exits, or inadequate lighting and security. However, business owners may also face liability for damages resulting from toxic chemical exposure. Chemical exposures in workplaces, restaurants, stores, schools, and laboratories can pose a severe danger to a person’s health and well-being. Toxic poisoning usually occurs from inhaling an airborne substance or ingesting contaminated food or water. There are various toxins such as sulfates, gasoline, lead, mercury, and bleaches that may cause severe injuries to a patron or visitor. Exposure to these chemicals may cause various symptoms and illnesses, such as nausea, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, vomiting, rashes, and even death.

For example, recently, a national news report detailed the harrowing chemical incident at a Massachusetts Buffalo Wild Wings. Emergency officials arrived at the restaurant after receiving calls that patrons were becoming ill because of chemical fumes in the establishment. The fumes were released after an employee mixed a popular food service cleaning detergent with a bleach cleaner to sanitize the kitchen floor. The mixture resulted in a toxic chemical reaction that spread throughout the restaurant. Thirteen patrons were hospitalized because of exposure to the fumes and the general manager died. The product manufacturer included a safety information sheet that indicated that the detergent should not be mixed with strong acids; however, it is unclear the employee was trained on the product and whether the products have ever been used in conjunction before this incident.