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Property Owner and Snow/Ice Contractor Shielded Against Slippery Plaintiff (PA)

July 27, 2017

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On July 24, 2017, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania summary judgment in favor of the defendants in <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Castaldi-v.-Light-Acadia-11-89-et-al..pdf">Castaldi v. Light Acadia 11-89 et al.</a>.  The case arose out of an alleged slip and fall when on January 17, 2012, the plaintiff, Dina Castaldi (“Castaldi”), claimed she fell in the parking lot of a shopping center that was owned by Light Acadia 11-89, LLC (“Light Acadia”).  She claimed there was a patch of ice that caused her to fall.  Defendant Grass Works Landscape Management, Inc. (“Grass Works”) was retained by Light Acadia to perform snow and ice removal at the parking lot.
Both Light Acadia and Grass Works filed for summary judgment on the basis of the hills and ridges and out of possession landlord doctrines.  The trial court granted both of their motions.  Castaldi then appealed.
In Pennsylvania, the hills and ridges doctrine is designed to protect 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.  Courts recognize that to impose a duty on landowners to keep their walkways free of ice and snow at all times is an impossibility.  Therefore, to make a case, a plaintiff must show: 1) that snow and ice accumulated to a degree to unreasonably obstruct travel and to constitute a danger; 2) that the property owner had notice of such condition; and 3) that the accumulation caused their fall and injuries.  A plaintiff can also make a case if they show that an accumulation was from an “artificial origin”, i.e. plowing.
The court agreed with the defendants and found the Light Acadia had no notice of snow/ice accumulation in the lot and that the accumulation was not large enough to constitute a danger.  In addition, the court stated that Grass Works was covered by the hills and ridges doctrine because it was actively treating snow and ice with salt and thus was acting reasonably.  The court also found that Light Acadia was not liable because it was an out of possession landlord, and owed no duty to third-parties.  As such, Light Acadia was granted summary judgment on this point as well.
Courts have recognized owning property as a benefit, on the whole, to society and seek to encourage.  As such, several defenses have been established in common law and statute to protect landowners in certain situations.  The hills and ridges and out of possession landlord doctrines are two examples of such defenses.
It is important therefore to recognize early on the type of ownership that a client has in a property, their interest in the property, how they use it, whether they have leased it out, and other factors to see if they qualify for a certain defense. Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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