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Snow Accumulation Falls Short for Plaintiff in Negligence Case (PA)

September 27, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href="">Hare v. Mark Zaffino, dba Mark Zaffino Snow Removal</a>, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that appellee did not breach his duty to clear snow and ice after appellant fell during a snowstorm.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Appellee Mark Zaffino was hired to provide snow removal services at Cobham Park Tank Farm in Warren, Pennsylvania. Under his contract, Zaffino was expected to plow snow from the roadways surrounding the farm before 7 a.m. or following an accumulation of three feet. In January 2015, there was a snowstorm that led to a steady accumulation of snow. Appellant James Hare worked for the property owner of the farm and was walking down the roadway when he fell on the snow and sustained a fracture. Hare asserted that Zaffino had not upheld his duty to abide by the snow removal contract and was negligent in allowing the snow to pile up as it did. On motion for summary judgment, the lower court found for Zaffino because of the hills and ridges doctrine. On appeal, the Hare raised two arguments: (1) that the hills and ridges doctrine should not have been applied to Zaffino; and (2) that Zaffino should have been held to a higher duty of care under his contract.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Under the hills and ridges doctrine, a property owner will be shielded from liability if the snow does not accumulate into what would be considered a “dangerous condition” in ridges or elevation. Accordingly, the plaintiff must show that the defendant allowed the snow and ice to accumulate into the ridges or elevations in such “size and character” that it poses a danger to pedestrians, that the property owner had actual or constructive notice of the condition, and that the condition led to the plaintiff’s fall. Hare argued that this doctrine should not apply to Zaffino because he was not the owner of the property. However, the Court found that as an independent contractor contracted to maintain a certain area, Zaffino took on the responsibilities held by the property owner and was therefore entitled to the protections enjoyed by a property owner. The Court ultimately found that Zaffino’s employee had attempted to plow the area but because of the continuing storm, the snow had continued to accumulate. Nevertheless, the accumulation did not violate the hills and ridges doctrine.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Hare asserted that Zaffino must be held to a higher duty of a care for snow removal due to the specific terms of the snow removal contract. The Court rejected this argument by stating that there was no legal basis for it and concluded that even though Zaffino was under contract, there was no indication that the contract raised the standard of care owed to Hare.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Gabrielle Outlaw for her contribution to this post. Please email <a href="">Vito A. Pinto</a> with any questions.</p>


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