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What are some examples of a heightened duty of care in Massachusetts?

One of the key elements in a claim for negligence is proving that the defendant owed to the plaintiff a duty of care. In Massachusetts, there is a duty of cared owed to every foreseeable person.

A duty of care means that one’s actions require the person to reduce the risk of hurting others. This does not mean we must constantly be thinking of how our actions may hurt others; it simply means that we owe others a duty to act reasonably under the circumstances. Typically, the duty of care that’s required is based on the “reasonable person standard”: we are held to the standard of care to which a reasonably prudent person in the same situation would be held.

However, there are some instances where a reasonable action may not be sufficient to satisfy the duty of care. Some instances require a heightened duty of care. Specifically, courts have imposed a higher duty of care on a common carrier, an innkeeper, and commercial landlords. A common carrier is someone such as a taxi driver or bus driver who is transporting someone else. In modern day, an innkeeper is a hotel or motel caring for its guests.

The reasoning that courts apply this higher standard is that passengers have little control over their safety when riding on a bus or boat. Therefore, it is easier to make a claim against a common carrier because they are liable for any negligence actions. Similarly, a special relationship also exists between a guest and an innkeeper. An innkeeper has a duty to provide a safe environment for their guest free from unreasonable risk of harm. Courts have found when innkeepers do not take proper steps to preserve the safety of their guest they have breached their duty of care.

Lastly, Commercial landlords also have a heightened duty of care which hasn’t always been the case. In the past, their only obligation was to repair common areas or to make contractual repairs. After a 2011 decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, commercial landlords must now meet a heighted obligation to repair any unsafe condition that are present anywhere on the leased property after being properly notified. In that case, the plaintiff was a tanning salon operator who suffered injuries when she fell, after a piece of plaster fell into her eye from the ceiling. The plaintiff sued the defendant, her commercial landlord, claiming that the defendant owed her a duty to make repairs to the roof under Massachusetts law. The Court agreed, holding that commercial landlords are required to remedy unsafe conditions that exist anywhere on the premises.

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