The winters in Pennsylvania can be dangerous, both on the roads and on the sidewalks and walkways. Snow and ice can build up pretty quickly, and you can easily lose your footing, leading to serious injury. What’s the responsibility of a property owner in Pennsylvania to keep sidewalks, driveways and other thoroughfares free of ice and snow?
First, it’s important to understand that there’s no absolute duty in Pennsylvania to keep pathways cleared of ice and snow. Given the climate in the state, that’s generally considered an unrealistic expectation. What has evolved, though, through the opinions of judges—the common law—is what is known as the “hills and ridges” rule.
The Hills and Ridges Rule
According to the hills and ridges rule, a property owner in Pennsylvania will only be liable for injuries suffered in a slip and fall if the following criteria can be shown:
- There was an accumulation of ice or snow in ridges or in elevations that unreasonably obstructed pedestrian travel and constituted an unreasonable danger
- The property owner knew or should have known about the accumulation of snow or ice
- The accumulation of ice or snow was the actual cause of the slip and fall
With this rule, property owners are virtually excluded from liability for injuries sustained due to black ice or freshly fallen snow, as it would be unreasonable for them to know about or anticipate every potentially dangerous situation. However, if a landowner has prior notice that a particular spot is more susceptible to accumulation, that can change the duty, as it would then be reasonable to expect a buildup.
There are exceptions to the application of the hills and ridges rule:
- It does not apply if dangerous conditions were created by an artificial means—a broken water pipe, for example
- It does not apply when the buildup resulted from the property owner’s negligence, such as a stopped up storm drain
Contact Our Office
At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we offer experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel to individuals in Pennsylvania. To set up an appointment for a free initial consultation, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online