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Hills and Ridges Doctrine Prompts Dismissal of Suit (PA)

October 17, 2018

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On October 15, 2018, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed an entry of summary judgment in favor of defendant Jeanne Coker in <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Seibert-v.-Coker.pdf">Seibert v. Coker</a></em>.  The case stems from a patch of black ice on Coker’s property which allegedly caused plaintiff to slip-and-fall and injure herself.

On February 6, 2014, T. Seibert slipped on a patch of black ice as she was departing from her home visit to Coker.  In Pennsylvania, the “hills and ridges” doctrine protects landowners from liability for generally slippery conditions resulting from snow and ice where the owner has not permitted the ice and snow to unreasonably accumulate in ridges and elevations.  Thus, in order to recover for a fall on an ice or snow covered surface, a plaintiff must prove: (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 traveling thereon; (2) that the property owner had notice, either actual or constructive, of the existence of such condition; and (3) that it was the dangerous accumulation of snow and ice which caused the plaintiff to fall.  T. Seibert attempted to claim that Coker had constructive notice of the patch of ice, however, she produced no evidence to support this point.  As such, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Coker and the Plaintiffs’ subsequently appealed.

On appeal, Plaintiffs’ claimed they produced enough evidence to survive summary judgment, but the Superior Court held that no evidence had been produced to support Plaintiffs’ accusation that Coker had notice, actual or constructive. of the black ice.  As such, the Superior Court affirmed the dismissal.

This case highlights the high burden that the hills and ridges doctrine imposes on plaintiffs in Pennsylvania, and the difficulty of proving constructive notice in such cases.  As such, focusing on this particular element is crucial in determining whether a summary judgment motion is appropriate early on in a slip-and-fall case.  Thanks to Garrett Gitler for his contribution to this post.   Please contact <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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