Slip and Fall Liability on Pennsylvania’s Snowy Sidewalks

With Thanksgiving come and gone, winter is starting to creep up on everyone. For those living in Pennsylvania, when the sub-zero winds start to blow they know all too well how quickly snow, sleet and ice can start to accumulate. Consequently, Pennsylvania residents need to be careful when clearing their sidewalks of snow and ice – as doing so improperly may expose the homeowner to liability.

Snow removal in Wilkes-Barre & potential liability

Specifically, the City of Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania reminds it residents that within 24 hours of a snowfall all snow should be removed from sidewalks. However, homeowners need to be cautious in their snow removal or risk liability if someone falls and injures themselves on the icy sidewalk.

Liability for slip and fall accidents in Pennsylvania is different than many other jurisdictions as it follows the “hills and ridges” doctrine when dealing with slippery sidewalks. Basically, the “hills and ridges” doctrine protects homeowners from liability for generally slippery conditions from snow and ice where the homeowner has not allowed the snow and ice to unreasonably accumulate in ridges or elevations.

Thus, homeowners are generally not liable for injuries that occur after minor naturally accumulated snowfall, but if the snow or ice reaches a depth that creates “hills or ridges, then the homeowner has a duty to rectify this dangerous condition – failure to do so may establish liability.

Keep in mind, however, that the “hills and ridges” doctrine applies in slip and fall situations in which the snow and ice was entirely naturally accumulated. If the snow or ice on the sidewalk was in any way manipulated by human intervention, the “hills and ridges” doctrine does not apply.

For instance, if a homeowner shovels all of the sidewalk snow into one big mound, and that mound partially melts only to refreeze as ice on the sidewalk later that night, the homeowner may be held liable for any accident caused by the refrozen ice. Basically, homeowners can be held liable if a dangerous condition is created following their attempt to clear up the snow and ice.

When it comes to establishing liability for a slip and fall accident on an icy Pennsylvania sidewalk, it can be a complex matter with various exceptions to the rules. Accordingly, this article should not be taken as legal advice, but it should serve as a reminder to contact an experienced slip and fall attorney if you have been injured on an icy sidewalk as even the smallest details can create or destroy potential liability.