Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snowmageddon Slip and Falls NOT a Slam Dunk

Ice, snow, slip and fall

Slip and Falls in Pittsburgh, PA

Tis the season for slip and falls- what with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania stuck in the throes of “Snowmageddon” and now facing a second blizzard. The streets are slippery and the sidewalks are icy and snow covered. I have seen a lot of people lose their balance. One poor guy in a nice suit actually fell to the ground right outside my building (OK, that guy was me and it wasn't such a nice suit).

The real downside to all of this is that there have assuredly been some people in Pittsburgh that have fallen and injured themselves. In such circumstances it’s understandable to want to hold someone else responsible for your injuries. In my experience clients that have fallen on ice and snow on sidewalks in front of businesses or in streets or sidewalks owned by a local municipality believe their case to be a slam dunk. Not so fast. There are two big legal principles that can negate legal claims that potential plaintiffs must be aware of: (1) The Doctrine of “Hills and Ridges” and (2) Governmental Immunity.

I have previously discussed Governmental immunity here, so I won’t rehash that issue now.

The “hills and ridges” doctrine however, is a long-standing and well-entrenched legal principle that protects an owner or occupier of land from liability for generally slippery conditions resulting from ice and snow, where the owner has not permitted the ice and snow to unreasonably accumulate in ridges or elevations. Harmotta v. Bender, 601 A.2d 837 (Pa. Super. 1992).

If the “hills and ridges” doctrine is found to be applicable then, in order to recover for a fall on an ice or snow-covered surface, a plaintiff is required to prove : “(1) that 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 traveling thereon; (2) that the property owner had notice, either actual or constructive, of the existence of such condition; (3) that it was the dangerous accumulation of snow and ice which caused the plaintiff to fall.” Rinaldi v. Levine, 176 A.2d 623, 625 (1962).

A prerequisite to the application of the “hills and ridges” doctrine however, is a finding of generally slippery conditions as opposed to isolated icy patches. Morin v. Traveler's Rest Motel, Inc. 704 A.2d 1085, 1088 (Pa.Super.,1997)

The doctrine may be applied only in cases where the snow and ice complained of are the result of a recent snowfall that results in an “entirely natural accumulation.” Harmotta v. Bender, 601 A.2d 837, 841 (Pa.Super. 1992). Thus, proof of “hills and ridges” is not necessary when the hazard is not the result of a generally slippery condition, but originates from a localized patch of ice. Id. at 381 (citing Tonik v. Apex Garages Inc., 275 A.2d 296 (Pa. 1971)).

And if you think about it, this makes sense. Shop owners, home owners and other people in charge of clearing footpaths on their property can only be expected to do so much. Though the legal principles can get a little convoluted it really gets down to what’s reasonable under the circumstances.

So keep this in mind if you or someone you know has the bad luck to slip, fall and injure themselves as a result of these extraordinary storms that have recently hit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And remember an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure....so tread lightly! Share this post :
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