When a person slips and falls on a sidewalk or parking lot because of snow or ice in Pennsylvania, the property owner is not always at fault. In Pennsylvania, the "Hills and Ridges" doctrine applies to such cases. The Hills and Ridges doctrine holds that a property owner is not responsible for slippery conditions from a minor dusting of snow or sleet that is the result of an entirely natural accumulation. If the minor snowfall or icing does not naturally accumulate to a depth that creates "hills and ridges" in the snow or ice, then the property owner has not permitted an unreasonable accumulation of snow or ice and cannot be held responsible for the entirely natural accumulation. If on the other hand, the snowfall or icing has naturally accumulated to a depth that creates "hills and ridges," then the property owner has the duty to correct the dangerous condition and if they breach that duty causing someone to fall and be injured, then the property owner is negligent.
A key issue for the "Hills and Ridges" defense to apply is whether the snow or ice that causes a person to slip and fall was due to "an entirely natural accumulation." If the snow or ice that the person slips on has been influenced in any way by human intervention, the "Hills and Ridges" doctrine/defense does not apply. Typical examples of human intervention are where a natural accumulation of snow has been subsequently shoveled or plowed into a mound and that mound of snow subsequently melts during the warmer daytime and then the water from the melting snow refreezes during the colder nighttime. The ice created by this situation is due to human intervention of shoveling or plowing the snow into a certain location and allowing it to melt and refreeze.
If a person subsequently slips and falls on this ice, the "Hills and Ridges" defense will not be available to the property owner. Another common occurrence is where a gutter downspout directs rainwater or melting snow from a building's roof onto a parking lot and that water subsequently freezes. Another example is where a patch of ice is caused by a defect in the sidewalk or parking lot surface, such as a crack or pothole. If rain water or water from melting snow is allowed to pool at that location because of the crack or hole and then freezes, that ice would have been caused by the property owner's negligence in allowing the defective pavement to exist and the ice forming at that location would not be due to "an entirely natural accumulation" of snow or ice.
While at first glance all slip and fall cases due to snow or ice may appear similar, they are not and may have very different outcomes in a Pennsylvania court. This is one of several reasons why you should always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney before speaking to the insurance company for the property owner.