No Excuses: Icy Sidewalks Are Your Responsibility

Published July 26, 2010

An icy sidewalk

Natural accumulation? (caribb/Flickr)

I know this feels really, really far away, but I need you to think about shoveling snow for a minute.

If you don’t shovel your sidewalk after a snowfall and someone slips and gets hurt, you’re liable. Until today, property owners could argue the white stuff was “natural accumulation,” thanks to an 1883 ruling that made the hair-splitting distinction.

The Supreme Judicial Court on Monday threw out that logic in Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation. (Read the ruling on Scribd.)

Emanuel Papadopoulos sued Target for negligence after he slipped and fell in front of a store in Danvers. Here’s how the story goes: It was a cold day in 2002 — below freezing — and the snow had stopped falling. Target did its duty and plowed the parking lot. The plow deposited a small mountain of snow on a median in the parking lot. Some of that snow melted onto the pavement, then refroze. And that’s where Papadopoulos took his unfortunate step, while trying to get back in his car, and fell.

Papadopoulos sued Target and lost. A lower court said the store was not liable, because that patch of ice was “natural accumulation.” An appeals court affirmed.

But the high court has ruled in favor of Papadopoulos, noting cleverly:

We do not accept this rationale where a property owner knows or has reason to know that a banana peel has been left on a floor by a careless customer; we have long held that the property owner has a duty to keep the property reasonably safe for lawful visitors regardless of the source of the danger.

Can’t wait to sue half of Brookline this winter.

Kudos to Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin for turning me onto this story. Ever slipped on an icy patch? Do you have to shovel snow every winter? grovels: “court doesn’t have plows shoveling snow onto walk!” Shout out in the comments.