Winter Weather Brings Slip and Falls Due to Ice and Snow
During the winter months in Pennsylvania, winter weather conditions involving ice, sleet, and snow present serious dangers on roadways, sidewalks, parking lots, and in a host of places that we patronize and conduct the activities of our daily lives. The potential safety threats are considerably enhanced when these forms of precipitation are allowed to accumulate and/or freeze on surfaces. Sadly, winter weather conditions are responsible for thousands of accidents involving cars, trucks, and motorcycles each year. Equally as devastating, these conditions cause countless injuries to innocent victims through slip and fall accidents. When slip and fall incidents do occur, the property owner may be held responsible if he or she failed to take reasonable safety precautions to secure the premises. The complexity of this issue is significant, as there are a number of critical criteria which must be met in order to effectively enforce this responsibility through a personal injury lawsuit.
Slip and falls caused by ice and snow fall within a specific category of personal injury law known as premises liability. These cases involve what is called a “reasonable standard of care,” which requires a property owner to take reasonable precautions to avoid unsafe or defective conditions of their premises. When they fail to do so, these parties may be held liable to the injuries of victims. Slip and falls may result in a breadth of injuries ranging from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, to broken bones, herniated discs, and knee injuries. If the property owner is held liable, he or she may be required to provide you with compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitative treatment, and pain and suffering. If you find yourself in this precarious situation, it is essential to understand the nuances of Pennsylvania law in these cases in order to determine if you have grounds for legal action.
In Pennsylvania, the Standard Civil Jury Instruction 7.04 entitled “Owner/Occupier’s Duty of Care (Ice or Snow on Abutting Public Sidewalk or Walking Surface)” mandates the following:
One in possession of land is required to remove ice and snow that has accumulated on the public [sidewalk] [walking surface] abutting his or her property within a reasonable time after he or she is on notice that a dangerous condition exists. To establish liability upon the landowner, the plaintiff must prove that each of the following three essentials was present:
- First, that ice and snow had accumulated on the [sidewalk] [walking surface] in ridges or elevations that unreasonably obstructed travel and were a danger to persons traveling on the walk;
- Second, that the defendant property owner knew or should have known of the existence of such conditions;
- Third, that it was the dangerous accumulation of ice and snow that caused the plaintiff to fall.
This legal dictate is often referred to as the “Hills and Ridges Doctrine.” Although it may seem rather clear in its instruction, cases involving slip and falls due to ice and snow are by no means cut and dry in Pennsylvania. For example, in order for a plaintiff to avoid liability, he or she must prove that the ice, snow, etc. was a result of natural accumulation. In other words, if they failed to removed snow, allowed it to melt, and it subsequently froze into ice, they are not protected under the Hills and Ridges Doctrine. Further, if a roadway was improperly plowed and appeared to be free of accumulation but in fact, was covered with black ice, those responsible for the safety of the roadway may be held responsible (ref. Harvey v. Rouse Chamberlin, Ltd., 901 A.2d 523 (Pa. Super. 2006)).
Overall, enlisting a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney can serve as your greatest asset in pursuing compensation for your injuries if you have suffered a slip and fall due to ice and snow. It is entirely understandable to have questions about your legal options, which is why our seasoned personal injury lawyers are always available to provide free consultations. Simply contact us at our Bensalem, Pennsylvania offices at (215) 337-4915 to discuss your case.