In sidewalk fall accidents which occur due to snow or ice, liability depends on two factors: 1. the status of the property owner and 2. the status of the individual who is injured. Under tort or negligence law in Pennsylvania, property owners have various duties with respect to maintaining property, and those duties depend largely on the type of property at issue: private versus public, residential versus commercial, etc.
In addition, in snow/ice accumulation cases, liability ordinarily does not attach unless there was an unreasonable accumulation of the snow/ice. Pennsylvania courts have adopted a “hills and ridges” standard which applies to snow and ice fall accidents. Under this doctrine, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the snow/ice which caused the accident accumulated to such an extent that hills and ridges of snow/ice formed. Click here to read more about liability in snow/ice fall accidents and the hills and ridges doctrine.
Sidewalk Accidents – The Status of Property Owner
In general, commercial property owners have greater duties than owners of private properties. The key difference is that commercial property owners benefit directly from the activities on the property. Examples of commercial property owners include:
- grocery stores,
- retail stores,
- shopping malls and strip malls, and
- gas stations.
These are all types of businesses which have a general duty to ensure that the store property is in a reasonably safe condition. Therefore, people who shop at such establishments must be protected from unreasonably dangerous conditions because they were invited, i.e., are business invitees. See the discussion below about how the status of the individual affects the analysis in a sidewalk accident case.
With respect to the condition of sidewalks which abut property, commercial property owners must conduct reasonable, regular inspections to ensure that dangerous conditions are rectified. If dangerous conditions cannot be fixed, then warning signs or warning cones are appropriate. Failure to take these steps may result in liability. Therefore, a grocery store which fails to adequately remove snow/ice from sidewalks may be liable to a customer who has a fall accident.
These same principles apply to a residential property owner who invites others into their home. For example, a homeowner who fails to salt sidewalks and walkways after a major winter storm may be liable to a house guest who slips and falls on an icy sidewalk.
Sidewalk Accidents – The Status of the Injured
In Pennsylvania fall accident cases, the type of duty owed by the property owner depends on the status of the person who is injured: business invitees, licensees or trespassers. In the context of sidewalk ice accidents, the invitee and licensee status are usually at issue. As referenced above, a business invitee or invitee is someone who is invited to the property, i.e., a grocery store customer or a house guest invited to a house party. Under the law, invitees are owed the highest duty – the duty to inspect property for defects.
A licensee is someone on the property with the owner’s implied or express permission, i.e., a utility worker. With respect to residential or commercial properties, individuals walking on sidewalks who are not necessarily invited to the premises, are relegated to the status of a licensee. Property owners are only required to warn of known or reasonably knowable dangerous conditions.
In the context of icy sidewalk accidents, an individual who is walking on a public sidewalk and slips on ice may have a claim against the property owner. To prevail, the snow/ice accumulation must be such that hills and ridges of snow/ice had formed or the ice must have been part of an isolated patch of ice. As a general rule, a small amount of accumulation will generally not be enough to find a property owner liable for a licensee’s injuries in a snow/ice fall accident case.
Related Pennsylvania Slip and Fall Legal Articles:
- Fall Down Accidents-Slip and Fall, Trip and Fall Cases in Pennsylvania (Part One)
- Did You Have a Slip & Fall Accident in Philadelphia? What You Should Know About Getting Medical Bills Paid
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