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Pennsylvania’s Doctrine of Hills and Ridges Delivers Questions of Fact to the Jury (PA)

October 8, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Figuero-v.-Meitzner.pdf">Figuero v. Meitzner</a></em>, the Plaintiff, a delivery driver for Fed-Ex, slipped on an icy sidewalk while delivering a package to the Defendant. The Plaintiff sought damages and the jury held the Plaintiff 40% liable and the Defendant 60% liable, awarding $1.5 million in damages to the Plaintiff.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, arguing the jury had insufficient evidence to support the findings that the Defendant was 60% liable. The Defendant argued that the Pennsylvania’s Common Law Doctrine of Hills and Ridges was in effect, and therefore relieved the Defendant of liability. Defendant based this argument on evidence established at trial that general slippery conditions were existent in the town of Bethlehem the morning of Plaintiff’s fall. During trial, Plaintiff testified it had snowed that morning and there was a light blanket of snow and ice where she fell. But Plaintiff had also testified it stopped snowing while she delivered packages, and she delivered many other packages without incident.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The court noted that unless slippery conditions generally existed throughout the town, the court, as a matter of law, would not need to consider whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to satisfy the Doctrine of Hills and Ridges. The Doctrine only applies when general slippery conditions prevail in the community. <em>Tonik v. Apex Garages, Inc., 275 A.2d 296, 298 (Pa. 1971).</em></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Court denied the Defendant’s Motion for a Judgement Notwithstanding the Verdict, in that the general condition throughout town the morning of the fall was a question of fact for the jury to decide. Here, the jury had the right to decide whether non-slippery conditions generally existed in Bethlehem on the morning in question, and if so, whether hills and ridges were present at the location of the fall.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This case demonstrates the jury’s role in analyzing the many elements which factor into determining the application of the Doctrine of Hills and Ridges. Additionally, it is important to note a morning snowfall does not alleviate a landowner from liability. Landowners should be aware as to ice and snow on sidewalks, and understand a morning coat of snow could still end in $1.5 million in damages.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Madeline Troutman for her contribution to this post.  Any questions, please contact <a href="mailto:gcoats@wcmlaw.com">Georgia Coats</a></p>

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