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Are Property Owners Required to Clear Snow and Ice in Pennsylvania?

March 17, 2020

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

The Supreme Court in New Jersey has recently overturned a decision in a slip and fall case that rested on the question of who is liable to clear snow on a business’ premises. Premises liability law in New Jersey is very similar to the laws in Pennsylvania, which is why all Pennsylvanians should take note of the decision.

The plaintiff in the case was a FedEx driver that was delivering a letter to Ramslee Motors, a car dealership. It was winter and the driver slipped and fell on ice and snow in the dealership’s parking lot. He sued the dealership for damages relating to the fall. The driver won his case in trial, but the appellate courts overruled the decision, stating that it was not the dealership’s responsibility to clear the snow, but the landlord’s. The Supreme Court overturned the appellate court’s decision, allowing the driver to claim the compensation he needed.

The case brings to light an interesting question. Who is liable for slip and falls on a business’ parking lot?

The Duty of Property Owners and Occupiers in Pennsylvania

Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania law clearly state that property owners are responsible for clearing ice and snow from parking lots and walkways when they pose a hazard to visitors. However, the law also clearly states that if the property owner had relinquished that control to someone else, that person may be liable.

For example, in the recent case, the property owner had leased the land to the dealership. Within the lease, it clearly stated that the dealership was responsible for removing the hazard of ice and snow. It was this evidence that allowed the plaintiff to collect damages. On the other hand, if the dealership had a contract with a snow removal company, which they did not seem to, and that third party company did not properly remove the snow, they could be found negligent and therefore liable for damages.

The key factor in these types of cases is not necessarily which party owned the property. Instead, these cases often rest on who had control of it, such as a tenant, and who was responsible for clearing the snow, such as a snow removal company.

The Hills and Ridges Doctrine in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania does have one very unique law pertaining to ice and snow removal on properties. That is the Hills and Ridges doctrine, which does not necessarily pertain to who is responsible for clearing snow, but when the obstruction should be moved.

Under the Hills and Ridges doctrine, a property owner or occupier must remove snow and ice when these elements have accumulated to the point that they unreasonably obstruct travel. In order to be held liable under this doctrine, the owner or occupier must have known about the doctrine, and the hazard must have caused another person to slip and fall.

Did You Slip and Fall on Snow or Ice? Call Our Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers

When you slip and fall on someone else’s property due to ice and snow, filing a claim against the property owner to claim damages seems fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, it is not. The recent decision in the Supreme Court and Pennsylvania’s hills and ridges doctrine shows just how complicated these cases can become. It is for this reason that if you have been hurt in a slip and fall, you need the help of our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers.

At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we know how to determine liability and prove these claims to give you the best chance of success with your case. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online so we can start reviewing your case.



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