Winter time in Pennsylvania can often mean snow, ice storms and other unexpected weather events. Under Pennsylvania law, property owners are not required to keep their premises and abutting sidewalks completely free from snow and ice at all times. However, both commercial and residential property owners must take reasonable steps to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. Failure to do so may result in liability.
In snow and ice slip and fall accident cases, Pennsylvania courts apply what is called the “Hills and Ridges Doctrine.” Under the Doctrine, a property owner is immune from liability for generally slippery conditions which result from snow and ice unless the property owner permitted unreasonable accumulations to remain for an unreasonable amount of time. “Unreasonable accumulations” include the accumulation of snow and ice to such a degree that hills and ridges of snow or ice have formed.
Accordingly, in order to succeed under the Hills and Ridges Doctrine, a plaintiff must prove that the snow and ice accumulated in hills or ridges that unreasonably obstructed travel, the property owner knew or should have known about the conditions, and the accumulations of snow and ice is what caused the plaintiff to slip and fall.
The Doctrine presumes that, if the snow and ice accumulations are significant enough to form hills or ridges, the property owner must have failed to deal with the storm in a reasonable period of time. Thus, the property owner should be liable for the injuries. Implicit in the Doctrine is the idea that no claim exists for falls on generally icy conditions, since landowners would face an impossible burden of anticipating and immediately dealing with every snow or ice event.
It is important to note that the Doctrine only applies to cases involving snow or ice resulting from natural accumulation, such as a recent snowfall or ice storm. Dangerous, slippery conditions of artificial origin are not covered by the Doctrine. Some examples of situations not covered by the Doctrine include a fall caused by a crack in the sidewalk where ice was allowed to accumulate, a fall due to icy conditions caused by the property owner’s neglect (like a leaky water spigot or clogged storm drain), or a fall that occurred due to snow that melted and refroze where there was insufficient drainage on a property.
Whether or not the Doctrine applies to a slip and fall case involving snow or ice will be a fact specific determination. Only an attorney familiar with your case will be able to advise you whether the Hills and Ridges Doctrine will apply to your circumstances. However, in cases of generally icy conditions, the Doctrine may be useful for protecting property owners from slip and fall liability.
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