SJC Ruling On Snow Removal: What It Means For You

By Ron Sanders, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — A new ruling by the state’s highest court applies to the Bay State’s new fallen snow. The Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling says you have a duty to use “reasonable care” to remove snow and ice from your property.

That applies to commercial property owners, such as stores and shopping malls, as well as residential property owners.

Penny Fantoni of Plymouth said she was aware of the new ruling. That’s why she was fulfilling her duty by shoveling her driveway Monday morning.

The 85-year-old homeowner admitted it’s tough for her, but said she has “two wonderful nephews” who help her.

Attorney David White, former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, says for more than 100 years, Massachusetts property owners had a special exemption from liability for “natural accumulations.”

WBZ-TV’s Ron Sanders reports.

An injured person had to show accumulation was unnatural, such as a pile of plowed snow across a sidewalk. Now property owners must use reasonable care to remove all snow and ice. “So you’re not expected to remove every single flake that falls on your property but you have to do so within a reasonable amount of time,” explained White.

Even a snow-conscious business such as the Blue Hills skiing area must clear its walkways and parking areas. “So we have pallets of ice melt and shovels and our staff on hand that clean up every morning,” said Kristin Orozovich, general manager of the ski area.

Plymouth homeowner Frank Bobblis has a question about the ruling: “What about people who are away?”

Attorney White said you need to make reasonable arrangements. The ruling will be applied on a case-by-case basis.

WBZ viewer Steve Blanchard was curious to know who owns the sidewalks. “In most cases, it’s the town sidewalk…Roads and sidewalks are not covered by this ruling,” said White.

His law firm had some legal advice for property owners. After you clear snow and ice from your driveways and walkways, if you can’t safely move across them, you put others at risk and you risk liability.

In case you wonder what to do if snow accumulates while you’re at work, attorney White says you can take care of it when you get home.

He said he expects an uptick in residential lawsuits.

  • Steve from Lowell

    So i have to move my mailbox to the end of my driveway and post no trespassing signs then hope i don’t get sued while the ciities and towns can leave sidewalks unpassable? Do these judges actually get paid to make these rulings?

    • Jay P.

      The judges that makes these rulings can well afford to have people who come and clean up after every storm.

  • emom

    How ridiculus, to clear public sidewalks that the town owns is insane,, I will only clear, my walkway which leads to my driveway which leads to the street ,, all other access that lead up to there is the towns responsibility, I DO NOT OWN THE PUBLIC SIDEWALKS, THE TOWN DOES

    • Bear

      Hey, eMom: You’re already doing the right thing. The SJC ruling only clarifies your liability for people hurt on your private property, not the public sidewalks.

  • RSR

    I’d vote YES on a Ballot Question to repeal this sneaky money grab law that nickel and dimes most property owners.

  • inkthomas

    it just gets sicker and sicker…………there all on the take……..

  • john_hudsonma

    The state is just looking for a new source of revenue, fining people who don’t clear the snow.

  • San Nom

    The article above states “Roads and sidewalks are not covered by this ruling.” However, ordinances about snow removal still vary from town to town in Massachusetts. For example, the Arlington Advocate published this statement yesterday, “The town requires residents and businesses to remove snow and ice from any sidewalks abutting their property following a storm.” So you should check your local ordinances before assuming you don’t have to clear sidewalks.

  • Tony Rufo

    Still not clear if this also means sidewalks. I clean everything, sidewalk, street, driveway, walkway. What is reasonable time/ 24 hours, 2 days. Would it depend on the snow fall?

    • Jay P.

      They usually say within 24 hrs. after the storm has ended. Where I live, the plow actually clears the road so that you can see the curbstone. ALL the plowed snowbank is on my sidewalk which runs in front of my house. We are in the historic district of town, where the sidewalk runs right by my doorway. No frontage. To clear the sidewalk, we would have to shovel 40 feet of a plowed, packed snowbank which covers our front side walk. But the town wants all sidewalks shoveled within 24 hrs. after the storm.

  • Wizard

    I love snow, it’s so pretty and white…

    • cynic

      Except the part arpund the Hydrants and Trees that is Yellow.

  • Cynic

    The SJC said “from Your Property”” Is the Sidewalk “Your Property” or does it belong to the City or Town?…There will be many more decisuions before this rukling is Calrified.

    • Bear

      To Cynic: No, the ruling is quite clear, cases about “injuries suffered by a plaintiff on a public way, including a sidewalk and roadway, that abutted a defendant’s property” are not relevant here. Footnote 10 of the ruling.

  • cynic

    Again…Typos… I Meant Decisions,ruling and clarified…. If I could read the thing I could have corrected it before I posted it.

  • concernedcitizen

    The lawyers are salivating.

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