Icy and snowy conditions are common causes of slip and fall injuries. Unfortunately, snow and ice are part of the reality of living in Northwest Pennsylvania and property owners aren't responsible for all snow and ice related accidents. However, there are times when a property owner is responsible for creating or failing to remedy a snow and ice hazard. Whether your fall on snow and ice is the property owner's fault or not will depend on several factors unique to your case.
Falls on snow and ice are part of the reality of living in Northwest Pennsylvania. Each of us has experienced it. Each of us has witnessed it. Fortunately, many of these falls are merely embarrassing and all that we need do is smile sheepishly, brush ourselves off and move on with the day, perhaps a little more tenderly than we might have otherwise.
Unfortunately, not all snow and ice falls have such a happy ending. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20 - 30% of older adults who suffer a slip and fall will suffer moderate to severe injuries, including fractures and head injuries, that can limit independence and increase the risk of death.
If you're one of those unfortunates who've suffered a serious Pennsylvania slip and fall injury as a result of a snow and ice related fall on someone else's property, you'll want answers to your questions about when a property owner is responsible to compensate you for your harm. The Erie slip and fall lawyers at Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. have answers. Read on or call us today toll free at 877-505-9548 or use our free on-line consult form.
Generally Snowy/Icy Conditions
Winter in Erie County (like all of Northwest Pennsylvania) is snowy and icy. And there are times when there's little a property owner can do to make the property perfectly safe. As a consequence, Pennsylvania snow and ice injury law does not hold a property owner responsible merely because snow or ice accumulates on the sidewalk. However, the law does require property owners to act reasonably to address the natural accumulation of ice and snow and, if the property owner fails to take reasonable precautions and you're seriously hurt, then you may have a valid case to recover money for your damages.
The law in Pennsylvania that is most often cited in connection with conditions related to the natural accumulation of snow and ice is known as the "hills and ridges" doctrine. The hills and ridges doctrine makes a property owner liable for injuries caused by snow and ice only when the snow or ice has accumulated in "ridges or elevations that unreasonably obstruct travel." Thus, ice that is perfectly smooth may not be a condition for which most property owners will be liable (assuming it is ice that occurs naturally and is not an isolated patch).
To be liable for injuries pursuant to the "hills and ridges doctrine" you must demonstrate that:
- The property owner allowed snow or ice to accumulate in ridges or elevations that unreasonably obstructed travel;
- The property owner knew or should have known about the condition; and
- That it was the ridges or elevations condition that caused you to fall.
The hills and ridges doctrine only applies to the natural accumulation of snow and ice and only when conditions in the community are generally snowy and icy. If the property owner takes action to change the condition of the property (for example by plowing) or if the snow and ice are the result of a man-made condition (such as a drainage spout that directs water onto the sidewalk or snow melt from plow mounds that creates a sheet of ice) then the hills and ridges doctrine may not apply.
Unnatural Snow and Ice Conditions
An unnatural snow or ice condition is one that occurs because a person created the condition. For example, when a downspout channels water onto a Pennsylvania sidewalk and an ice slick results, this is a condition that is not subject to the Pennsylvania hills and ridges doctrine. Instead, the Pennsylvania landowner will be responsible if the landowner knew or should have known of the condition and failed to take reasonable measures to correct or warn of it (if a warning would be effective).
Other conditions that may be considered "unnatural" are black ice that results from plowing a parking lot without taking measures to spread salt or non-skid material or plow mounds that pile up in snowy conditions, then begin to melt as the weather warms and the run-off re-freezes as ice slicks. However, ice that results when a property owner applies salt, which causes melting, and which then re-freezes is not generally considered a worsening or an unnatural condition.
Isolated icy patches are another condition that may constitute an unnatural condition or, by definition, are not part of a generally icy or snowy community and thus are evaluated outside the scope of the hills and ridges doctrine.
The Bottom Line
Erie snow and ice slip and fall accidents are all too common and determining whether or not a property owner is liable for the injury is a complicated and uncertain task that requires a thorough and prompt investigation and consideration of a multitude of factors (for example, see our article on how the injured person's status affects the liability analysis). If you've suffered a serious injury as a result of a Pennsylvania snow and ice slip and fall, you should consult with an experienced Pennsylvania injury lawyer.
The Erie slip and fall lawyers at Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. have experience with cases in which people have been seriously injured as a result of a dangerous snow or ice condition. Our primary goal and objective is to make sure our clients and their families receive the compensation and resources they need to treat and manage their injury and to compensate them for their losses.
Call Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. today, toll free 877-505-9548 to schedule your free and confidential consultation with an Erie trip and fall lawyer.
We will fight for your legal rights to the money and resources you need to fix what can be fixed, help what can be helped and make up for what cannot be fixed or helped.