Snow and icy conditions often cause injuries such as fractured ankles, wrists, arms and many others. Individuals can pursue a personal injury claim against the property owner for these injuries. However, Pennsylvania courts apply the “Hills and Ridges” doctrine that serves as a defense for property owners. The “Hills and Ridges” doctrine only applies to paved areas where pedestrians travel.
Generally speaking, the purpose of Pennsylvania’s “Hills and Ridges” doctrine is to protect property owners from being responsible for slippery conditions on their property that have only been there for a short time. The courts have refused to hold property owners liable for slippery conditions on their properties while snow and ice is still falling or immediately after the end of a storm. The courts have stated that it would be unreasonable to force property owners to keep their walkways clear of snow and ice at all times. The “Hills and Ridges” doctrine applies when snow and ice accumulated naturally. If the property owner attempted to clear the area by salting or plowing the property, and someone slipped on the remaining ice or snow, the doctrine would not apply because the accumulations were not “entirely natural.” The owner would have artificially changed them. Thus, property owners are generally responsible for removing ice and snow upon the sidewalk in front of their property. Property owners are not, however, required to keep the sidewalk free from snow and ice at all times. It would be unreasonable to force property owners to keep walkways clear of ice and snow consistently, in light of the region’s climate conditions.
As such, the Supreme Court held: “There is no liability created by a general slippery condition on sidewalks. It must appear that there were dangerous conditions due to ridges or elevations which were allowed to remain for an unreasonable length of time, or were created by defendant’s antecedent negligence.” Rinaldi, 176 A.2d at 625. Therefore, a duty is placed upon the property owner or tenant to act within a reasonable time after notice to remove [the snow and ice] when it is in a dangerous condition.” Gilligan v. Villanova University, 584 A.2d 1005, 1007 (Pa. Super. 1991).
The “Hills and Ridges” doctrine is not absolute. It is applied only in cases where the snow and ice that caused the injury are the result of an entirely natural accumulation. Harvey v. Rouse Chamberlin, Ltd., 901 A.2d 523, at 526, quoting Bacsick v. Barnes, 234 Pa. Super. 616. Also, the general hills and ridges rule is subject to a number of significant exceptions. By example, proof of hills and ridges is not required when the hazard is not the result of a general slippery condition prevailing in the community, but of a localized patch of ice. Nor is proof of hills and ridges required when an icy condition is caused by the defendant’s neglect. Bacsick, at 621.
What this means is that the facts of each case are very important. If a property owner has plowed or salted a property, and a person then slips on the remaining snow and ice, the hills and ridges doctrine should not apply. This is because the accumulations are not “entirely natural” and were artificially changed by the property owner. Also, snow that melts and then refreezes may not be an entirely natural accumulation if there is insufficient drainage on a property. Very often property owners will allow snow to melt but will not take any steps to adequately drain the melted water off of the property. When it refreezes, it becomes a slipping hazard. This failure to provide proper drainage of the property can allow the hills and ridges doctrine to be defeated by showing the icy condition was caused by the property owner’s own negligence.
Evidence is very important in any slip and fall case. Photographs of the ice or slippery conditions will make all the difference. Photos that show that the ice and snow has formed icy ridges or ripples may help defeat the hills and ridges doctrine. Photos or evidence of frozen footprints or tire prints in ice or snow can show that the precipitation had been there for an unreasonable time and is no longer an entirely natural formation. Other evidence of salting or plowing can also overcome this defense, by showing that the ice and snow was no longer in an entirely natural state at the time of a fall.
If you believe that your injured after slipping on snow or ice, The Thistle Law Firm is experienced at handling these claims. They can help you understand your legal options and answer your questions at 215-568-6800.