If you were in a slip and fall or trip and fall accident in the winter in Pennsylvania, and you decide to sue the place where you fell under a theory of premises liability, then the legal doctrine known as “hills and ridges” will likely play a part in your case. In fact, our experienced personal injury attorneys routinely confront this issue in wintertime slip and fall cases, and will advise you on the best ways to make sure it does not prohibit you from recovering compensation for the pain and suffering you suffered.
In the first place, according to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, there is no liability created by general slippery conditions on sidewalks. The rationale for this is that snow and ice are natural phenomena and present only a temporary danger. So, there is no general duty for a person to keep their property and sidewalks free and clear of snow and ice at all times.
However, a property owner is responsible for the removal of ice and snow from his or her sidewalk so it does not accumulate into “hills and ridges” that obstruct foot traffic and present a danger to pedestrians making their way down the sidewalk.
It would be negligence, and potentially a case of premises liability, to allow the accumulation to occur, but it must be taken further and proven in a particular way to win. The courts in Pennsylvania have consistently ruled that it is not enough to show only that “hills and ridges” of snow and ice existed on a property where someone fell.
It must further be proven that the property owner knew, or should have known, that this accumulation of snow and ice was present on his or her property.
This is often referred to as the “notice” requirement, and must be satisfied because obviously, a person cannot be expected to remove snow and ice that they do not know is there.
Finally, it must be proven that it was these “hills and ridges” of snow and ice that were the cause of your fall.
Hypothetically, it would be problematic for your premises liability wintertime slip and fall case on a sidewalk, if you did not know or could not identify what it was you fell on, or if you fell on something else other than the snowy and icy “hills and ridges.” Also, you would have to describe or show what they actually looked like.
So then, what do “hills and ridges” actually look like?
Mostly, exactly what they sound like. Imagine mounds of snow and ice that are large enough to cause an obstruction or be a trip and fall hazard. A flat, but snowy surface is probably not enough to satisfy the criteria. However, if there is ice underneath the snow which causes a slip and fall, that would qualify. As you can probably tell, the “hills and ridges” legal doctrine can be very nuanced. If you had a slip and fall, and snow and ice were involved, contact us and we’ll evaluate if you have a good premises liability action.