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No Owing If It's Still Snowing (PA)

June 2, 2022

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The trial court in Monroe County granted summary judgment in a premises liability case where the Plaintiff slipped and fell during an ongoing storm of freezing rain and snow, thereby reaffirming that a property owner has no obligation to correct snow and ice conditions until a reasonable time after the storm has ended.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Mertira-v.-Camelback.pdf">Mertira v. Camelback</a>,</em> Elsa Mertira was injured when she slipped and fell while leaving a restaurant at Camelback Lodge with her family at approximately 8:30 p.m. on January 1, 2021.  It was undisputed that there was precipitation falling in the form of freezing rain and/or snow prior to Plaintiff entering the restaurant, and after she left.  The freezing rain and/or snow was still falling at the time of her accident and continued falling until at least three hours after her fall.  It was also undisputed that Plaintiff and her family were walking on a “grassy strip” and not a walkway / sidewalk or parking lot at the time of her fall.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">To recover damages as a result of a fall due to snow or ice on a property, a plaintiff must show: (1) that snow or ice accumulated in ridges or elevations of such size an character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians; (2) that the property owner had either actual or constructive notice of the existence of the condition; and (3) that there was a dangerous accumulation of snow and ice that caused a fall.  <em>Biernacki v. Presque Isle Condominiums Unit Owners</em>, 828 A.2d 1114, 1117 (Pa. Super.  2003).  The property owner’s duty under such circumstances is to act within a reasonable time after notice of the condition to remove the snow or ice.  <em>Id.  </em>A property owner has no obligation to correct snow and ice conditions until a reasonable time after the storm has ended.  <em>Alexander v. City of Meadville</em>, 61 A.3d 218, 224 (Pa. Super. 2012).</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">There is no duty on a property owner to clear snow or ice from grassy areas that are “not intended to be traversed by pedestrians.”  <em>Gilligan v. Villanova University</em>, 584 A.2d 1005, 1008 (Pa. Super. 1991).  The duty only applied to sidewalks, parking lots and other paved areas where pedestrians would be expected to travel; otherwise a property owner would be responsible for clearing snow and ice for their entire property, which would be unreasonable.   Plaintiff alleged that she was forced to walk on the grassy area due to ice and snow on the sidewalks and parking lot where she was initially traversing when exiting the restaurant.  The Court rejected this argument because the property owner had no duty to address the icy or slippery conditions on a sidewalk or parking lot until after the winter event had ended and a known dangerous condition caused by hills and ridges still existed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Court noted that: (1) Precipitation was still falling at the time of Plaintiff’s fall, and Defendants were under no obligation to do anything until a reasonable time after the storm ended; (2) The Plaintiff failed to adduce any evidence of hills or ridges or any condition other than generally slippery conditions that existed in the local geographic area; and (3) Defendants had no duty to keep the grassy area, where Plaintiff chose to walk, free and clear from icy/snowy conditions. The area was between curb and a fence, and was not a walkway, sidewalk, or parking lot.  Each of these reasons, standing alone would have been sufficient for Defendants to prevail on their Motion for Summary Judgment.</p>
Thanks to James Scott for his assistance with this post.  Should you have any questions, please contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Thomas Bracken</a>.

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