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Hills and Ridges Doctrine (PA)

November 29, 2018

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Winter can be dreadful to some people especially with the accumulation of snow.  In <a href="https://www.law.com/thelegalintelligencer/almID/1541648639PA181316/?download=181316.pdf"><em>Smith v. Riverside</em></a>, the Court invoked the hills and ridges doctrine to disclaim liability for a slip and fall.  In <em>Smith</em>, the plaintiff slipped and fell on ice when he walked up the ramp at the entrance to the Riverside Rehabilitation Center.  A severe snowstorm had begun as plaintiff traveled to Riverside and was ongoing at the time of the accident.  The Plaintiff argued that the Defendant negligently allowed snow to accumulate on the property.  The Defendant filed for summary judgment based on the hills and ridges doctrine which is an exception to negligence liability.

In Pennsylvania, to establish a negligence claim the plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that snow and ice had accumulated on the sidewalk in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians travelling thereon; (2) that the property owner had notice, either actual or constructive, of the existence of such condition; (3) that it was the dangerous accumulation of snow and ice which caused the plaintiff to fall.  <em>Rinaldi v. Levine, </em>176 A.2d 623, 625 (Pa. 1962).  The hills and ridges doctrine protects the owner or occupier of land from liability for generally slippery conditions resulting from snow and ice where the owner has not permitted the snow and ice to unreasonably accumulate in the ridges or elevations. <em>Harmotta v. Bender</em>, 601 A.2d 837.  The rationale behind the hills and ridges doctrine is that requiring one's walkways to be always free of snow and ice would impose an impossible burden in light of local climatic conditions during the winter.

The Court found that the hills and ridges doctrine applied because the snowfall was ongoing when the accident occurred, further, because there was no evidence that the Defendant had let the snow unreasonably accumulate.  In the winter months it is important for insureds to evaluate the weather conditions and the condition of their property to invoke this doctrine to escape liability.  Here, the Court was persuaded by the fact that the storm was still ongoing which bolstered the Defendant’s claim that it acted reasonably with regard to snow removal.

Thanks to Malik Pickett for his contribution to this post.

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