Slip and Falls on Black Ice

Slip and Falls on Black Ice

Posted By Law Offices of Thomas J. Murphy || 6-Feb-2012

People slip and fall on ice more than snow. Often times the ice appears to look like water, but in reality it is ice. This situation is often referred to as black ice. Because black ice is thin and appears slightly darker than the surrounding pavement it is laying on, it often appears similar to water.

Whether a person injured by a slip and fall on black ice can pursue a personal injury claim in Pennsylvania will depend on the cause of the black ice. Not all black ice is treated the same under Pennsylvania law. Black ice that is caused or created by an entirely natural occurence, such as by rain, sleet or snow that melts and then freezes (often overnight) on the ground into a thin layer of ice is generally not compensable in Pennsylvania. The reason being that the property owner is deemed to not be on notice of this generally slippery condition, and therefore does not have a duty to remove the thin layer of ice. If the property owner owes no duty, then the property owner cannot be held to have negligently breached a duty.

Now at first glance one may believe that all black ice is due to a natural occurrence, but this is not the case. Under Pennsylvania law, anytime the black ice is not caused by an entirely natural occurrence, the injured person may have a right to pursue a personal injury claim for injuries suffered in a slip and fall on black ice. When the black ice is caused or created in part because of the involvement of mankind, then it is no longer caused by an entirely natural occurrence. A common example of where mankind causes, creates or facilitates black ice is where the property owner or their snow removal contractor shovels or plows snow following a snow storm into large piles, mounds or snow banks and over the next several days those piles, mounds and snow banks melt during the day and the melting water runs downhill and then refreezes overnight. Another example is where a bulding has its downspout from its roof gutters depositing water (from rain or melting snow) directly onto a parking lot or sidewalk surface and then the water freezes on that surface. A third common example is where water is caused to pool unnaturally into a puddle due to a defective condition in the pavement or sidewalk, like a pothole or a cracked, broken, depressed or missing section of pavement or sidewalk and that puddle of water then freezes, often overnight when the temperatures are at their coldest.

The reason why Pennsylvania law allows a person injured by a slip and fall on black ice caused by the examples in this paragraph to pursue a personal injury claim gets back to notice. Here, once a property owner shovels or plows snow into a certain location or installs his roof gutter downspouts to dispurse roof water directly onto a paved walking surface or allows their property to come into disrepair facilitating water to pool into puddles, that property owner is deemed to be on notice that their action or omission may cause black ice to form at a specific location and now that they are on notice of the possiblity of black ice forming at a certain location on their property, that property owner now has a duty to prevent the black ice from forming and to remove the black ice if it forms, usually by applying salt to the area or by repairing the defective condition on the property that causes the black ice to form, and if the property owner fails to do so then they have breached their duty and they may be held negligent by a Pennsylvania court.

While it may appear that all slip and fall injuries caused by black ice are similar, they are not and they may have very different outcomes in a Pennsylvania court. This is just one of many reasons why you should always consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who will make certain that you will successfully obtain full compensation from the insurance carrier for the property owner or snow removal contrator for your medical expenses, lost wages and personal injuries arising out of your slip and fall on black ice.