Slip and Falls on Entirely Natural Accumulations of Snow or Ice

Slip and Falls on Entirely Natural Accumulations of Snow or Ice

Posted By Law Offices of Thomas J. Murphy || 26-Nov-2012

To prevail on a personal injury claim arising out of a slip and fall on snow or ice, the injured person must prove that the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property was negligent. Negligence is breaching a duty owed to someone. To prove negligence, you must prove that the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property had a duty to remove the slippery snow or ice from the sidewalk, parking lot or other paved walking surface and that they failed to perform this duty in a timely manner, thereby breaching their duty. The main issue is notice. Was the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property aware that a dangerous slippery condition created by snow or ice was present on a paved walking surface on their property, thereby imposing a duty on them to remove the dangerous condition on their property.

The injured person has the burden to prove that the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property was on actual or constructive notice (knew or should have known) that snow or ice was present on a paved walking surface and created a dangerous condition, thus imposing the duty on those responsible to maintain the property to remove the snow or ice and their failure to do so caused the person to slip, fall and be injured. Most of the time the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property denies actual knowledge of the condition and the injured person must prove constructive notice, i.e., had they performed reasonable visual inspections and/or that based on the severity of the conditions they should have been on notice of the dangerous conditions on their property.

Snow or ice is usually present on a paved walking surface for one of two reasons or causes. The first cause is from an entirely natural accumulation, such as a natural snowfall, sleet or rain event which freezes when it hits the ground. The second cause is due to something the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property owner did or failed to do, such as shoveling or plowing snow into a mound or snow bank, or from a roof gutter downspout dispersing water from rain or melting snow on the roof onto the paved walking surface which freezes on the walking surface or from pothole or broken pavement that facilitates water pooling at that location and then freezing. It is usually easier to establish constructive notice when the snow or ice is caused in part by something the property owner did or failed to do. For a more detailed discussion regarding snow or ice present due to something the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property did or failed to do, see our blog entitled Slip and Falls on Black Ice.

When snow or ice is present due to an entirely natural accumulation of snow or ice, whether the injured person can establish constructive notice or not will depend on the severity of the conditions. The less severe the conditions, the more likely the court will rule that the conditions were not sufficient to put the property owner on constructive notice that a dangerous condition was present {which is necessary before the law imposes a duty to remove the dangerous condition}. Determining exactly when the severity of the conditions due to an entirely natural accumulation rise to the level that the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property is deemed to be on constructive notice of the presence of a dangerous condition, thus imposing a duty on them to remove the dangerous condition created by the snow and ice has become known as the "Hills and Ridges" Doctrine.

Under the hills and ridges doctrine, to prove constructive notice, an injured person must prove that the snow or ice had accumulated to a depth that hills and ridges in the snow or ice were present, such as footprints in the snow or ice which refroze, and that the person slipped and fell due to the hills and ridges in the snow or ice. There is no precise way to describe the conditions, only that it establishes a depth that is visible and sufficient for a reasonable person to believe a dangerous slippery condition was present sufficient to impose a duty on the person or business entity responsible to maintain the property to remove the dangerous condition and that their failure to do so constitutes negligence. Here the law is trying to balance when to impose a duty on the property owner to remove a dangerous condition caused by someone else, mother nature.

An example where the court does not impose a duty is where it rains lightly and the ground temperature is below freezing causing a thin layer of ice to form on the ground and generally slippery conditions in the surrounding area. Here the court recognizes that the reasonable property owner looking outside his window may see only wet ground and not realize that a dangerous icy condition exists that is in need of removal. If the reasonable property owner will not be aware of the dangerous condition, then the court will not impose a duty on them to remove the dangerous condition. On the other hand, where the area receives a 2 inch snow fall and a property owner does not clear the paved walking surfaces on their property and frozen foot prints in the snow and melting snow that refroze into ice the next day are visible, the court will find that a reasonable person would have recognized that the conditions did create a dangerous condition and that the property owner did have a duty to remove the dangerous conditions prior to the plaintiff slipping and falling on the dangerous snow and ice.

If you or someone you know is injured due to a slip and fall on a sidewalk, parking lot or other paved walking surface due to snow or ice, you should contact an experienced Philadelphia personal injury attorney to make sure that your case is handled properly and that you obtain maximum compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages and personal injuries.