William Burke Prevails on Behalf of Apartment Owner Client Against Claims of Negligence

Client Alerts · December 22, 2017

In November 2017, William Burke defended claims against a residential apartment owner in Worcester Superior Court.  The plaintiff claimed breach of the warranty of habitability and negligence on the part of the landlord for a fall that occurred when she slipped on ice on the property, causing her to break her arm.  Weather reports for the date in question indicate that for the 12 to 14 hours prior to her fall, there had been a severe ice storm in Worcester County and, although the ice in question had not been treated, there was available to her, as to all tenets, a bucket of sand salt mixture for her use.  The plaintiff conceded that everything was crusted in ice, including the stairs to the walkway she would need to use to get to her automobile.  She claimed to have had an urgent appointment for a dental cleaning that she felt she had to make.  In descending the stairs, she fell without injury.

Despite the fact that had just fallen down the stairs because of the ice, she got back up and proceeded to walk towards her car, whereupon she fell again and broke her arm.  When asked on the stand whether or not she agreed with the proposal that, if she had simply gone back to her apartment after falling the first time, she never would have been injured, the plaintiff agreed that, if she had done so, she would have spared herself the injury.

The defendants stated that they made all reasonable efforts, but could not get out of their home because of the ice conditions, even though they lived some 500 feet from the rental premises.  The defendants also testified that, at approximately 3 PM, they were finally able to make their way by casting sand/salt mix in front of them as they walked to the plaintiff’s apartment building, where they then proceeded to salt and sand.

Following deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants on the negligence count.  They also found for the plaintiff on the breach of warranty of habitability and found causation for the injury, but awarded her zero dollars.  The plaintiff had also filed a 93A claim based on an alleged breach of warranty of habitability, which was heard separately by the court after the trial.  Following that hearing on the 93A claim, the court ruled in the defendant’s favor, resulting in an all-out victory for defendants in the case.