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Plaintiff Escapes Snare of Pennsylvania’s Choice of Ways Doctrine at Summary Judgment

February 4, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Snair.pdf">Snair</a> v. Speedway LLC</em>, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania addressed whether the defendant was entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability after the plaintiff slipped on a patch of snow and ice while refueling a delivery truck.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Under the facts of the case, the plaintiff was refueling a delivery truck when he went to retrieve some paperwork from the truck’s cabin. Instead of walking over the fueling line, the plaintiff decided to walk around the truck, which required that he pass through a four-foot gap between the pump and the column supporting the canopy covering the area. While passing through the gap, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a patch of snow and ice resulting in injuries.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In its motion, Speedway argued Pennsylvania’s “choice of ways doctrine” barred recovery, as the plaintiff chose a path covered in snow and ice, rather than a presumably clearer path. Under Pennsylvania’s choice of ways doctrine, recovery may be barred where there was (1) a safe course; (2) a dangerous course; and (3) facts which would put a reasonable person on notice of the danger or actual knowledge of the danger. However, the danger must have been indisputably obvious to the plaintiff. In response, the plaintiff argued that the alternative paths were not clearly safer and the plaintiff was looking at other hazards, including vehicles moving in the area.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Court agreed with the plaintiff. The Court, citing both federal and state precedent applying the doctrine, noted that this was not a situation where there was a known and obvious hazard, as the snow and ice was not clearly visible, and the other available routes posed their own attendant risks, such as vehicle traffic and the possibility of tripping on the fuel line. As a result, the Court found there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether the plaintiff failed to heed an open and obvious hazard and denied Speedway’s motion.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This decision serves as a reminder that the “choice of ways” doctrine remains of limited value as a defense to slip and fall injuries in Pennsylvania.</p>
Thanks to Benjamin Ferrell for his contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:Haquino@wcmlaw.com">Heather Aquino</a> with any questions.

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