Harsh winter weather is common in Pennsylvania and the northeast. Snow, ice, freezing rain, and bitter cold are not uncommon, and neither are the slip and fall accidents they cause. Property owners have an obligation to reasonably keep their premises safe, especially in these conditions. When they fail to do so, pedestrians can fall and get seriously injured. If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident caused by snow and ice, you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney to see if you are elligible to file a premises liability claim.
The law firm of Cooper Schall & Levy represents accident and personal injury victims. We have a proven track record of helping individuals who have been injured in slip and fall accidents due to snow and ice accumulation. When you consult us, we will fight to help you obtain the compensation you need and deserve.
Common Danger Areas for Snow and Ice
Homeowners and business owners have a responsibility to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition for customers, visitors, and guests. The same is true when it comes to snow and ice accumulation. Although property owners are not expected to remove these and other hazards in the middle of a storm, they generally need to do so once the storm ends.
Parking lots, driveways, steps, and sidewalks are some of the most common areas where snow and ice may collect and pose a risk to pedestrians. If a property owner is expecting a heavy storm, there are reasonable steps that can be taken to protect the public. They may include anything from salting and de-icing the slippery surface to using warning signs and closing off particularly hazardous areas.
Injuries Caused by Slip and Fall Accidents
A slip and fall accident may cause relatively minor injuries like a sprain or bruising or severe injuries such as:
- Fractures (broken bones)
- Knee injuries
- Dislocated shoulders
- Muscle strains
- Spinal cord and nerve injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
Such injuries could result in significant medical bills, time away from work and other life-altering problems. In some of the worst cases, slip and fall accidents can cause irreversible brain damage, or spinal injuries that require surgical repair. Regardless of the nature of your accident, you need to see a doctor right away after a slip and fall. Failure to obtain medical treatment may not only aggravate your injuries, but it could also jeopardize your ability to collect compensation later.
Liability in Pennsylvania for a Snow and Ice Premises Liability Accident
It’s important to note that not all slip and fall accidents automatically result in liability for the property owner. Pennsylvania is prone to nasty winter weather conditions, so requiring a landowner to keep its premises free of ice and snow at all times would be impractical. Generally, state law requires an owner to remove a dangerous condition within a reasonable amount of time after receiving notice about it.
The first thing an injury victim will want to investigate is whether a local ordinance could apply to their situation. Some municipalities require that ice and snow be removed from parking lots and sidewalks within 24 hours after a winter storm. As with all slip and fall accidents, documenting the time of injury is a critical step in holding the property owner liable.
Pennsylvania has also developed what is known as the “hills and ridges doctrine” to determine whether a property owner may be held liable after a snow- or ice-related slip and fall. The hills and ridges doctrine limits the liability of potential defendants in certain cases. For example, it provides that a property owner is not liable for falls resulting from generally slippery conditions. That means no owner responsibility when conditions such as freshly fallen snow or black ice are at fault, since this would place an impossible burden on landowners to immediately respond to every snow or ice event.
In order to recover compensation after a slip and fall accident related to snow or ice, the injured party must establish the following:
- Snow or ice accumulated to the extent that it presented an unreasonable risk of injury to pedestrians. In other words, there are natural accumulations of snow or ice in the form of hills, ridges, and other elevated features.
- The property owner knew, or reasonably should have known, about the dangerous condition. As with premises liability cases more generally, a property owner cannot turn a blind eye to obvious hazards.
- The snow or ice accumulation caused the slip and fall accident and resulting injuries. That means the unreasonably dangerous condition must actually be the reason the victim slipped and fell.
A key consideration is whether the property owner was negligent in failing to remove the snow or ice in a reasonable amount of time. In some cases, your lawyer will want to investigate your case to determine whether:
- Any witnesses can testify as to the property owner’s knowledge about the risk
- The owner had received prior complaints about accumulated ice and snow
- The extent to which the owner should have known about the danger, given the circumstances
- Whether other nearby property owners took any steps to warn pedestrians or remove any dangerous conditions
The hills and ridges doctrine only applies in cases involving natural accumulations of snow and ice. If a dangerous condition was caused by some factor on the property, or by the owner’s neglect, recovery of damages will probably not be limited by the rule. This would include, for example, a crack in the sidewalk that allows water to accumulate and freeze. Your lawyer can explain the doctrine and how it relates to the specific facts in your case.
Contact Our Philadelphia Snow and Ice Premises Liability Attorney
Understanding the hills and ridges doctrine, and other applicable rules are essential to making a successful premises liability claim. If you’ve been injured because of a property owner’s negligence, you need experienced legal representation. Turn to Cooper Schall & Levy. We will thoroughly investigate your claims and make sure that the responsible party is held accountable for your injuries. Contact us today to discuss your case.