Papadopoulos v. Target Corp.

Decision Date26 July 2010
Docket NumberSJC-10529.
Citation457 Mass. 368
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Emmanuel N. Papanickolas (Paul R. Moraski with him) for the plaintiffs.

James T. Scamby for the defendants.

Martin J. Rooney & James C. Wood, for Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

J. Michael Conley & Chris A. Milne, for Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.



The plaintiff Emanuel Papadopoulos was injured when he slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the parking lot of the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers in front of a Target department store.4 He filed suit in the Superior Court against the defendants Target Corporation, which controlled the area of the parking lot where the plaintiff fell, and Weiss Landscaping Company, Inc., the contractor retained to remove snow and ice from the parking area. The judge allowed the defendants' motions for summary judgment as to all claims.5 The plaintiff appealed and, in an unpublished memorandum and order pursuant to its rule 1:28, the Appeals Court affirmed. Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., 74 Mass.App.Ct. 1104 (2009). We granted the plaintiff's application for further appellate review and directed the parties to brief the question whether, in a premises liability action involving a slip and fall on snow and ice, the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice should continue to be a factor under Massachusetts law in determining whether a property owner or other person responsible for maintaining property has been negligent.6 We now abolish the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow and ice, and apply to all hazards arising from snow and ice the same obligation of reasonable care that a property owner owes to lawful visitors regarding all other hazards.

1. The summary judgment decision. Based on the undisputed facts in the summary judgment record, at some time around 11 A.M. on December 20, 2002, the plaintiff drove to the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers to shop at the Target department store. The temperature was below freezing, but it was not snowing or raining. The parking lot outside the store had been plowed and was essentially clear, although the plaintiff did notice scattered snow and some areas of ice. The plaintiff parked his automobilein a "handicapped space" close to the store entrance and immediately beside a raised median strip that separated the parking area from the traffic lane running between the lot and the store. In clearing the lot, the snowplow had deposited a pile of snow on the median, but in doing so, the plow left some remaining snow on the ground by the edge of the median. The plaintiff left his automobile, entered the store, and made a purchase. As he proceeded toward his automobile after leaving the store, he slipped on a piece of ice that had frozen to the pavement. The ice on which the plaintiff tripped either had fallen from the snow piled on the median or had formed when snow melted and ran off the pile and then refroze to the pavement of the parking lot.

The judge concluded that, whether it was a chunk of ice that had fallen from the median or a patch of refrozen runoff from the snow pile, the ice that caused the plaintiff's fall was a "natural accumulation." Because our existing case law holds that a property owner does not violate the duty of reasonable care by failing to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice, see Sullivan v. Brookline, 416 Mass. 825, 827 (1994), the judge concluded that, as a matter of law, the plaintiff could not prevail on his claims of negligence; therefore, the judge allowed the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

2. Discussion. The rule that a property owner is not liable in tort for failing to remove a natural accumulation of snow and ice has come to be known in the treatises and the courts of other jurisdictions as the "Massachusetts rule."7 We now revisit this rule. To do so requires a brief review of traditional common-law rules that governed the tort liability of property owners in the Nineteenth Century and approximately the first two-thirds of the Twentieth Century, because the natural accumulation rule derived from, and is a relic of, that earlier case law.

During this time period, the standard of liability of a property owner for injuries suffered on his property depended on thestatus of the plaintiff, that is, whether the plaintiff was a tenant, an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. See Young v. Garwacki, 380 Mass. 162, 164 (1980). See generally Vertentes v. Barletta Co., 392 Mass. 165, 171-174 (1984) (Abrams, J., concurring); Mounsey v. Ellard, 363 Mass. 693, 694-697 (1973) (Mounsey). If the plaintiff was a tenant, the landlord had no duty to the plaintiff to maintain any area under the tenant's control in a safe condition: the lease was treated as a transfer of property, and the landlord was only potentially liable for failing to warn the tenant of hidden defects that the landlord was aware of at the time of the lease. See Young v. Garwacki, supra at 165, and cases cited. If a tenant (or a guest of the tenant) slipped and was injured in a common area that remained under the landlord's control, the landlord could be found liable in tort only if he failed to use reasonable care to keep the common area in a condition no less safe than it was when the tenant first commenced the lease. See Lowe v. National Shawmut Bank, 363 Mass. 74, 77 (1973), and cases cited. See also Woods v. Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co., 134 Mass. 357, 359 (1883) (Woods) ("A tenant who hires premises takes them as they are, and cannot complain that they were not constructed differently"). This limited obligation of the landlord also included a duty not to wantonly or negligently place a dangerous obstruction in the common area. See Watkins v. Goodall, 138 Mass. 533, 536 (1885). As to the latter duty, the court explained:

[The landlord] is liable for obstructions negligently caused by him, but not for not removing obstructions arising from natural causes, or the acts of other persons, and not constituting a defect in the passageway itself. He would be liable for negligently leaving a coal scuttle in a dangerous position, but not for not removing one so placed by another person.


If the plaintiff was an invitee, defined as a person invited onto the property by the property owner for the property owner's benefit, see Mounsey, supra at 695-697, the property owner owed a duty to use reasonable care to keep the premises "in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, andthe burden of avoiding the risk." Id. at 708, quoting Smith v. Arbaugh's Restaurant, Inc., 469 F.2d 97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 1972). This duty required a property owner to make reasonable efforts to repair or remove any dangerous conditions, or at least to warn against any dangers not either known to the invitee or obvious to any ordinarily intelligent person and of which the property owner knew or reasonably should have known. See Kelley v. Goldberg, 288 Mass. 79, 81 (1934).

If the plaintiff was a licensee, defined as a person who entered onto the landowner's property for the licensee's "own convenience and pleasure," Mounsey, supra at 697, quoting Sweeny v. Old Colony & Newport R.R., 10 Allen 368, 373 (1865), the property owner owed a duty only to forbear from inflicting wilful or wanton injury on him. Mounsey, supra at 696-697.

If the plaintiff was a trespasser, the property owner's only duty was to refrain from wanton and wilful misconduct. Soule v. Massachusetts Elec. Co., 378 Mass. 177, 180 (1979).

During a period of "reconsideration and reform" between 1973 and 1980, this court abandoned what it characterized as the "obsolete machinery of the common law," Young v. Garwacki, supra at 166, as it applied to premises liability, eradicated most of these differences in the standard of liability based on the status of the plaintiff, and applied the standard of reasonable care previously applied only to invitees to all but adult trespassers. See id. at 166-169; Soule v. Massachusetts Elec. Co., supra at 184 (applying reasonable care standard to child trespassers); King v. G & M Realty Corp., 373 Mass. 658, 660-661 (1977) (applying reasonable care standard to tenants); Lindsey v. Massios, 372 Mass. 79, 82 (1977) (applying reasonable care standard to persons visiting tenants); Mounsey, supra at 707-708 (applying reasonable care standard to licensees and all lawful visitors). As we will demonstrate, the rule that a property owner owes no duty to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice derived from the limited duty a landlord owed to a tenant, but somehow survived after the court concluded that a landlord owes a tenant and his guests the same duty of reasonable care owed to an invitee.

Many commentators and out-of-State courts declare, although we have not done so, that the Massachusetts rule that property owners owe no duty to remove natural accumulations of snowand ice originated with this court's 1883 decision in Woods, supra. See note 7, supra. In the Woods case, a tenant brought suit against her landlord for injuries she sustained when she fell on a set of ice-covered granite steps located in a common passageway in the yard of the tenement house she occupied. Id. at 358-359. This court affirmed the trial judge's order directing a verdict in favor of the defendant. Id. at 361. As discussed earlier, under the landlord-tenant law that prevailed at that time, a landlord could be held liable only for failing to exercise reasonable care to prevent the common area from becoming less safe than it had been when the tenant first entered into the lease, or for negligently placing a dangerous...

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1 cases
  • Another v. Target Corp. & Another
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • July 26, 2010
    ... 457 Mass. 368 930 N.E.2d 142 ... Emanuel PAPADOPOULOS & another 1 v. TARGET CORPORATION 2 & another. 3 ... SJC-10529. Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, ... Suffolk. Argued Feb. 8, 2010. Decided July 26, 2010. 930 N.E.2d 143 ... Emmanuel N. Papanickolas, Peabody (Paul R. Moraski with him) for the plaintiffs. James T. Scamby, Boston, for ... ...

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