Last month, a Boston, Massachusetts woman sustained life-ending personal injuries after falling five stories through a skylight on the roof of a South Boston office building, located at 281 Summer Street. Boston police and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office are now investigating the incident. Officer Eddy Chrispin told the Boston Globe that the fatal fall appeared to be accidental and likely did not involve drugs or alcohol. Boston police did note, however, that the building’s roof was not readily accessible to inhabitants. The Suffolk district attorney’s office refused to identify the victim of the fatal fall, noting only that she was in her early 20s. Thus far, no premises liability charges have been brought against the New Jersey-based owners of the building, Normandy Real Estate Partners. However, the company is cooperating with investigators in Massachusetts to determine the cause of the accident. Although this tragedy seems rare, it follows another fall through a skylight in Massachusetts this past spring, when a young man fell through a skylight on a roof in Brookline. In that case, the victim was more fortunate, sustaining only minor personal injuries.
According to Massachusetts state and federal law, building owners have a duty to keep their property reasonably safe and free of hazards that are known or should be known to potentially cause personal injury. Failure to maintain safe premises can result in liability for property owners and/or property management companies. The duty to secure property not only includes the removal or repair of hazards, but precluding access to unsafe areas, like building rooftops, if there exists an unreasonable risk of injury by entering the area. To avoid premises liability for personal injury and/or death, building owners are required to at least provide adequate warning of such dangers. If property owners or management companies have negligently failed to maintain safe premises or provide adequate warning, they can be held liable for any damages. Boston attorney Peter Bellotti notes that “often, visitors of property have no way of knowing about potential hazards that exist on the premises. Thus, by law, property owners, and possibly property management companies, have a duty to reasonably secure the premises to minimize the risk of personal injury. At the very least, adequate warnings should be given to safeguard against tragic accidents like this recent fall.”
Under Massachusetts state and federal law, the exact duty owed to injured parties on premises varies with the class of the victim. For social guests and customers of a business, a property possessor has a duty to protect from all conditions concealed from the guest and known in advance by the property possessor. In short, the possessor of property must protect visitors of his property from defects to the extent of a reasonably prudent person. Pursuant to this case, a reasonably prudent person would likely not allow visitors on the roof of an unsecured building. A landlord may also be responsible for breach of warranty of habitability if the property is not maintained up to building code. If there exists a breach of warranty, both tenants and their guests can potentially recover for injuries sustained on the property. These issues will have to be explored further to determine if there existed any liable at the hands of the property owners in this case.