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No Liability for Failure to Prepare for Snowstorm (PA)

March 2, 2018

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In Pennsylvania, property owners’ duty to address ice and snow is delineated in the “hills and ridges” doctrine. The doctrine shields landowners from liability for generally slippery conditions resulting from ice and snow where the owner has not permitted the ice and snow to unreasonably accumulate in ridges or elevations. Typically, the doctrine provides a safe harbor after recent snow or ice accumulation. The doctrine’s principle is to preclude liability when general slippery conditions prevail in the community due to the weather as ice and snow is a reality of the climate.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The limits of the hills and ridges doctrine were explored in <em><a href="https://law.justia.com/cases/pennsylvania/superior-court/2018/1484-eda-2017.html">Collins v. Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation</a></em> (“PSDC”). Collins slipped while leaving work and fell on an ice/snow covered sidewalk owned by PSDC and leased to Collins’ employer. That day, a blizzard started at 7 am and continued until about 1 pm. Collins admitted that he walked outside during the blizzard. PSDC filed a motion for summary judgment based on the hills and ridges doctrine, which the trial court granted.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On appeal, Collins tried to convince the Superior Court that PSDC was liable because it did not take any steps before the forecasted storm to mitigate the icy effects. An exception to the hills and ridges doctrine is where the landowner’s neglect caused the icy/snowy condition. Collins argued that PSDC knew the blizzard was coming and failed to pretreat the sidewalk. Therefore, its neglect caused the icy/snowy condition.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The court was unconvinced and held that PSDC’s failure to pretreat the sidewalk did not trigger the exception to the hills and ridges doctrine. The court found that PSDC had no affirmative duty to ensure the removal after the storm, and if the caselaw finds no duty during or after the event, then it makes no sense to impose a duty before the event.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Ellis Palividas for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: mbono@wcmlaw.com">Mike Bono</a> with any questions.
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