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'Tis the Season to Be Falling' (PA)

December 20, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Patricia-Schouppe-v.-Kirby-Upright-dba-Lamplighter-Associates.pdf">Patricia Schouppe v. Kirby Upright dba Lamplighter Associates</a></em>, plaintiff Schouppe sued a property owner, defendant Lamplighter, for negligence after she slipped and fell on snow and ice in the parking lot of the post office. Defendant joined USPS and the local post office to the action, but they were ultimately dismissed. Defendant was considered a landlord out of possession because it owned the land but rented the property to the local post office. Following discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment, which was granted. The plaintiff appealed arguing there were genuine issues of material fact.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On appeal, the plaintiff argued was that there was ambiguity in the contract between Lamplighter and USPS as to who was responsible for the snow removal. The court ultimately rejected this argument based on contract interpretation citing the basic rule that if a contract is unambiguous, then the intent of the parties is determined solely by the writing itself. If the contract is ambiguous, then parol (external) evidence will be allowed allowed in order to determine the contract’s meaning. In this case, a reading of the contract as a whole indicated that USPS was responsible for the snow removal.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiff also asserted that defendant, even as a landlord out of possession, owed her a duty as a business invitee to prevent her injuries. She based her claim on the public use exception, which “creates landlord liability if the landlord knew or should have known the premises were to be used for purposes involving admission to the public”. The court rejected this argument because the rule requires that the landlord be aware of a dangerous condition prior to the transfer of property. There was no evidence that defendant knew of the dangerous condition in the parking lot and with the transience of weather conditions, it would have been difficult for them to prevent the harm.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Even in the winter months where slip and falls may be prevalent, landlords can be shielded from liability if it is clear that they were not aware of the dangerous condition or that another party clearly and unambiguously had the responsibility to maintain the premises.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Gabrielle Outlaw for her contribution to this post.  Please contact <a href="mailto:vterrasi@wcmlaw.com">Vincent F. Terrasi</a> with any comments.</p>

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