Cases involving a slip and fall on ice and snow can be difficult due to Pennsylvania’s hills and ridges doctrine. This defense can be challenging to overcome. Certain types of evidence are essential in being able to defeat the hills and ridges doctrine and to allow an injured plaintiff to recover damages. Below is a basic description of this defense and how our firm has consistently defeated it in our cases.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated that in a slip and fall case involving inclement weather, an injured person cannot recover damages by merely proving that her fall was caused by generally slippery conditions. Tolbert vs. Gillette, 438 Pa. 63, 65 (1970). Under the hills and ridges doctrine, the injured person must allege that there were dangerous conditions due to ridges or elevations of ice and snow, which were allowed to remain for an unreasonable length of time. Bacsick vs. Barnes, 341 A.2d 157 (1975); Rinaldi vs. Levine, 176 A.2d 623 (1962); Whitten vs. H.A. Gable Co., 200 A.2d 644 (1938). The injured person may also need to produce evidence that these hills and ridges were the cause of her fall. Rinaldi, supra. at 626.
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 are 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 courts have recognized that such a requirement may be impossible given our regional climatic conditions. Morin v. Travelers Rest Motel Inc., 704 A.2d 1085 (Pa. Super 1997).
However, while the hills and ridges doctrine provides some defense to property owners, it is not absolute.
The hills and ridges doctrine may be applied only in cases where the snow and ice complained of 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.
Mattiacci Law has successfully defeated the hills and ridges doctrine time and again. Most recently, in Ramsey v. Carrolls LLC, we defeated summary judgment in a case where an injured person slipped on ice in a Burger King parking lot. The defense argued that it was snowing out at the time of the fall and that the slippery conditions did not form hills and ridges. The defense further argued that the plaintiff knew there were generally slippery conditions in the area and had assumed the risk of walking on fresh snow. John Mattiacci defeated this argument by showing the icy conditions were related to snow that had fallen the day before and which had been allowed to melt and refreeze. Mattiacci Law utilized a forensic meteorologist and a safety engineer to show that the snow from the day before melted and refroze on the property due to improper drainage. John Mattiacci was able to show that the slippery conditions were not an entirely natural formation and were at least partially created by Burger King’s own negligence. The Court agreed and summary judgment was denied. The case then resolved.
Evidence can be very important in any slip and fall case. Very often taking photos of the ice or slippery conditions makes 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 or a family member has been injured in a slip and fall on ice or snow, contact Philadelphia accident lawyer John Mattiacci. The case review is free and we never charge a fee unless we recover money in your case.