Do I have a Claim if I Slip on Snow and Ice in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, in order for a plaintiff to recover for a fall on a snow or ice covered surface, the plaintiff must prove the following:
(1) snow and ice had accumulated on the sidewalk in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians;
(2) the landowner had either actual or constructive notice of the condition; and
(3) it was the dangerous accumulation of snow or ice which caused the plaintiff to fall. Morin v. Traveler's Rest Motel, Inc., 704 A.2d 1085, 1087-1088 (Pa. Super. 1997).
In Pennsylvania, however, the “hills and ridges” doctrine imposes a heightened burden on a plaintiff who slips and falls on snow and ice, and it can even shield a property owner from liability altogether. Biernacki v. Presque Isle Condominiums Unit Owners Ass'n, Inc., 828 A.2d 1114, 1117 (Pa. Super. 2003).
This doctrine protects a property owner from liability for generally slippery conditions resulting from snow or ice where the property owner has not permitted the snow or ice to unreasonably accumulate in ridges and elevations. Generally, a property owner will not be held liable for general slippery conditions when these conditions prevail in the community. Tonik v. Apex, 275 A.2d 296, 298 (Pa. 1971).
In addition, under this doctrine, property owners are specifically not obligated to plow, salt or shovel their property until a reasonable time after the snowstorm has ended. Collins v. Philadelphia Suburban Dev. Corp., 179 A.3d 69, 75 (Pa. Super. 2018). In other words, there is no duty to remove the snow and ice while the snowstorm is still active. Rinaldi v. Levine, 176 A.2d 623, 625 (Pa. 1962). Furthermore, Pennsylvania courts have made clear that there is no absolute duty on property owners to keep their properties completely free of snow and ice at all times. Biernacki, 828 A.2d at 1117.
What if the Property Owner or Snow Plow Company Intervenes to Remove the Snow?
Will the property owner or another entity acting on behalf of the property owner lose the protections afforded under the “hills and ridges” doctrine if they intervene and remove snow and ice while the snowstorm is still active? No. When a property owner, or another acting on behalf of the property owner, takes steps to remove snow and ice during the course of a snowstorm, the property owner or third party entity does not lose those protections. Additionally, when there is snowfall immediately prior to a slip and fall on snow and ice, intervention through plowing, salting or shoveling does not bar the application of the “hills and ridges” doctrine. Beck v. Holly Tree Homeowners Ass'n, 689 F. Supp. 2d 756, 765 (E.D. Pa. 2010).
Does the Hills and Ridges Doctrine Defeat Every Slip on Snow and Ice in Pennsylvania?
No, it does not defeat every case and it is still possible to win a slip and fall lawsuit. The doctrine can only be used when the slippery condition was caused by natural occurrences. Additionally, there are many exceptions to the rule that could help save a case. For instance, the plaintiff does not have to prove hills and ridges in cases where the hazard is the result of a localized patch of ice. Nor is proof of hills and ridges required when an icy condition is caused by the defendant's neglect.
What Should I do if I Slip on Snow and Ice in Pennsylvania?
In the immediate aftermath of a slip-and-fall accident, you will likely feel overwhelmed and be in a lot of pain. It is understandable if your first thought isn't to pull out your phone and take pictures of the scene of your fall, or to try to talk to witnesses who can confirm what happened. But having tangible proof of how your fall and injuries occurred is critical in developing a credible claim. These claims are very fact specific and the more evidence you have will help ensure the best possible outcome.
Given all of the different things you need to keep in mind when considering a claim of this type, it makes sense to get in touch with an experienced personal injury lawyer.
CONTACT US TODAY
If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of a slip and fall on snow and ice, call Sklarosky Law today at (570) 283-1200 or use our online contact form and tell us about your potential case. As explained above, these claims can be complex and challenging. Do not wait, call us today so that we can help you obtain the financial compensation you may be entitled to.