Whether it’s undetectable black ice, drifts of packed snow and ice, or sheets of ice on the sidewalk, wintry conditions make the risk of falling much higher — especially in a state like Pennsylvania, which is no stranger to icy cold conditions and precipitation. While residents do their best to be careful in slippery weather, we still know that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach as our feet begin to slip out from under us and we throw our arms out to try to regain our balance, or at least cushion our fall. And it seems that the older we are, the more serious these falls can be. That leads to a very important question: if you slip and fall on someone else’s property, is the property owner legally responsible?
Hills and Ridges Doctrine
Snow and ice are perfectly normal in Pennsylvania, and the law takes that into account with the Hills and Ridges Doctrine. This doctrine states that a property owner cannot be held accountable for slips and falls related to snow and ice unless they have allowed it to accumulate in ridges or elevations for an unreasonable amount of time. Natural accumulation of snow or ice on surfaces such as sidewalks may cause you to slip and fall, but the property owner is not responsible.
For example, if there was snow overnight and it accumulated on the sidewalk in a natural manner, then the property owner would likely not be held accountable for your injuries. On the other hand, if snow and ice had been allowed to accumulate over a few days with no effort made to clear it off, that would be a different matter. Or if the accumulation on the property was significantly more than those around it because the owner had neglected to clear it away, that, too, could be the responsibility of the property owner.
Notice that this legal doctrine refers to hills and ridges — that title was not arbitrarily chosen but rather points to excessive accumulations. If you slip and fall on snow and ice that is typical for Pennsylvania weather, you will have a very difficult time establishing a case against the property owner.
Proving Responsibility with the Hills and Ridges Doctrine
For a property owner to be held accountable for your slip and fall during wintry conditions, you will need to be able to prove three things to the court:
- That there was so much snow and ice accumulated that it formed ridges and elevations large enough to unreasonably obstruct travel and create a danger to pedestrians
- That the property owner knew (or should have known) of the existence of these unreasonably dangerous conditions
- And, finally, that it was the accumulation of ice and snow that caused you to fall
There are things that property owners should do to prevent unreasonable accumulations or to redirect pedestrians from dangerous areas. Basic tools such as snow shovels, sand, gravel, salt, and safety cones can go far in preventing slips. There are also local snow removal laws in place that provide guidelines for property owners’ responsibilities, and failure to adhere to these rules can lead to hefty fines.
Note that the Hills and Ridges doctrine does not apply if negligence resulted in formation of the hazard, such as a patch of ice that formed from a leaking gutter or sprinkler system. It also does not apply in cases of localized patches of ice that resulted in a slip and fall injury. Also keep in mind that this law is not always as straightforward as it may sound. If you do slip and fall, you would be wise to contact a lawyer with experience in such cases to determine how the law applies to your unique situation.
Slippery ice and snow are part of living in Pennsylvania during the winter months, and the laws regarding slips and falls take that into account through the Hills and Ridges Doctrine. Unless the property owner allowed snow and ice to accumulate in ridges and elevations for an unreasonable amount of time, they may not be held accountable for your fall. But the opposite is also true: if the conditions they allowed to remain were extreme, then you may have a case. Regardless, your best course of action is to seek the advice of a lawyer experienced in such cases.
Donaghue & Labrum
If you experienced an injurious fall on snow or ice, then you may be eligible for compensation. Contact the personal injury lawyers at Donaghue & Labrum right away. With decades of experience in personal injury practice and in-depth knowledge of the laws governing liability in wintertime falls, we will fight to get you what the law says you deserve.