This March, we’ve seen some of the worst snow storms in the Philadelphia area. This means there will be an increase in the number of slip and fall accidents on sidewalks, walkways, driveways, parking lots and even stairways.
While most slip and fall accidents due to ice don’t result in serious injuries, many do. Broken ankles, wrists and fingers are common. Head injuries and back injuries are also common. When serious injuries happen, an injured individual needs to know what to do in terms of their legal rights.
Pennsylvania Slip & Fall Law – Icy Accidents
For snow or icy fall accident lawsuits, courts in Pennsylvania will apply a special legal rule called the hills and ridges doctrine. This doctrine requires proof of the following:
1) an accumulation of snow or ice in such a manner (hills and ridges/elevations) that was unreasonable and dangerous for pedestrians,
(2) the owner of the property either knew about the problem or should have known about it, under the circumstances, and
(3) the snow/ice is what actually caused the accident.
Slip and fall or trip and fall accidents are some of the most difficult accidents to prove and win. It would be unreasonable to hold property owners liable for every fall accident. The key is negligence or fault on the part of the owner. Therefore, the plaintiff (injured party) bears the burden of proving the nature of the defect. In snow/ice fall situations, the defective condition will have likely melted by the time the injured party decides to take legal action. Therefore, it’s important for individuals injured in fall accidents due to snow or ice to take photos/video of the patch of ice or snow that made them fall.
Proof of Notice
In any fall accident case, the plaintiff has to prove that the property owner had notice of the condition. In icy fall accident cases, this means proving that the owner had actual knowledge via prior complaints, employee reports/observations, etc. Alternatively, the property owner might be charged with constructive notice, i.e., the owner should have known about the condition under the circumstances.
Fall Accidents Due to Ice – Melt & Refreeze Conditions
Fall accidents on icy sidewalk often occur when temperatures fluctuate between the 20s, 30s and 40s, when snow on the ground melts and refreezes. Proving these cases often requires an extensive analysis of the weather conditions in the days and hours leading up to the accident.
In addition, there may be unique conditions of the property that led to the formation of icy patches. Elevation, sloping, gradient of the area will be important to examine. For instance, a Philadelphia woman slips as she is walking up the driveway to her apartment complex. The landlord’s snow plow company had plowed all the snow at the top of the driveway, which has a relatively steep incline. With temperature fluctuations, the snow at the top of the driveway melts during the day. In the early evening and overnight, the driveway becomes icy due to dropping temperatures. Here, the fall occurred due to a unique condition of the property, the incline of the driveway and the heap of snow at the top of the driveway.
Financial Recovery After a Snow/Ice Fall Accident
Under Pennsylvania law, an injured individual is allowed to make a claim for all financial losses, as well as pain and suffering. In a slip and fall accident case, the injured individual can make a claim for:
- medical bills incurred as a result of the injuries,
- lost wages from any time missed from work due to the injuries, and
- other out of pocket expenses.
The financial losses are usually pretty straightforward. You can add up all medical bills, lost wages and receipts for out of pocket expenses (like travel costs, medical supplies, etc.). Calculating pain and suffering isn’t so easy. There’s no formula. Instead, compensation for pain and suffering damages depends on proof of how the injuries impacted the individual’s life, including family, home, work and hobbies. The greater the negative impact, the greater the claim.
Not So Fast – Comparative Negligence (Did the Pedestrian’s Own Conduct Cause the Accident?)
In every fall accident lawsuit, the defense will always argue that the plaintiff caused the accident, or at least is partially responsible for causing the accident. It’s the “why didn’t you see the defect” argument, which is also known as comparative negligence in Pennsylvania. In fall accident cases, the plaintiff will have to explain why they didn’t notice the defect. What kind of shoes were you wearing? Were you in a hurry? Were you looking up? Were you distracted in any way?
In PA, a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit can be negligent too and still prevail. However, the plaintiff is allowed to be negligent up to a certain point, no more than the defendant’s negligence. Liability can get divided in a fall accident case. The plaintiff can be assigned some percentage of liability (but never more than 50%). Whatever percentage gets assigned to the plaintiff gets subtracted from the total recovery. Here’s how it works. A plaintiff in a fall accident case sustains $100,000 in damages, but at trial, the jury assigns 30% of liability to him because he was talking to a friend on the phone when the accident happened. So, instead of receiving $100,000, he receives $70,000 (30% less).
Visit our law library for more info about fall accident law in Pennsylvania.
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