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Print Page MA Sides With Property Owner
by Ron Davis

A location in Massachusetts rather than neighboring Rhode Island can be a wise choice for New England shopping center owners. For one thing, negligence laws favor property owners in Massachusetts more than they do property owners in Rhode Island, as a recent lawsuit illustrates.

In that case, a Rhode Island woman slipped on ice and fell one recent winter day while visiting a Massachusetts shopping center. The shopping center location is in Seekonk, MA, and she fell in the center’s parking lot that straddles the Massachusetts/Rhode Island state line.

The exact spot of her fall, however, is on the Massachusetts side of the parking lot. As a result, when she decided to sue the shopping center owner for negligence in her home state of Rhode Island, the courts there had no choice but to apply Massachusetts laws to the situation.

In Massachusetts, the courts have held that although a property owner owes a duty of reasonable care to anyone lawfully on the premises, “this duty is not violated by a failure to remove a natural accumulation of snow or ice.” And facts in the case show that the shopping center owner had made every effort to keep its parking area clear of winter snow and ice prior to the woman’s slip and fall.

The woman contended, however, that the ice she slipped on was formed by snow plowing, causing melting and refreezing, and thus was not a result of a natural accumulation.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court, in ruling in favor of the shopping center owner, explained, “As a matter of Massachusetts law, the piling of snow is not shown to have artificially created a condition. Furthermore, the mere flowing of water from the premises and the formation of ice upon the sidewalk do not show negligence upon the part of the shopping center owner.”

The justices then added, “We do note that if we applied Rhode Island negligence law, we probably would come to a different conclusion. Under Massachusetts negligence law, however, we hold that the shopping center owner is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Taylor v. Mass. Flora Realty, Inc., 840 A.2d 1126)

Decision: January 2004
Published: March 2004

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