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What Is the Legal Standard for Premises Liability? How Does That Relate to Slip-and-Fall or Trip-and-Fall Injury Cases in Pennsylvania?

Premises liability cases, including slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall cases, are negligence cases. For a cause of action that is based upon negligence, the plaintiff has to show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, that the duty was breached, that the breach resulted in the plaintiff suffering an injury, and that the plaintiff suffered an actual loss (damages).

In a premises liability claim, the duty of care that is owed by the owner of the property or the persons or business renting the property is determined by the status of the plaintiff: is that person an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser at the time that they were injured? An invitee is owed the highest duty of care, meaning the property owner or the person renting the property has a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, to repair any defects or dangers, and to warn of any dangers or defects on the property that the owner knows about (or should have found out about in the exercise of reasonable care). A licensee is owed a lesser duty of care than is owed to an invitee. A property owner owes the duty of care to warn a licensee of any known hazards; however, there is no positive duty to inspect for the dangerous conditions or to repair the dangerous conditions once they are discovered. Finally, there is the trespasser, who is owed the very least duty of care. A property owner only has a duty to refrain from what is known as willful, wanton, and reckless conduct that could harm a trespasser.

What Duties Do Property Owners Have Regarding Ice and Snow Removal Outside Their Establishment?

Snow and ice removal procedures and requirements are often governed by the local municipality (the township, borough, or city where the property is located). There will often be a property maintenance code that dictates when snow and ice is to be removed. For instance, Section 10-720 of the Philadelphia Code says the owner, agent, and tenants of any building or premises shall clear a path of not less than 36 inches on all sidewalks bordering the building or premises within six hours after the snow has stopped falling. Generally, a local city code or property maintenance code will tell property owners or persons or businesses renting a property how long they have to clear snow and ice following a snowstorm. If that’s not accounted for in a local property maintenance code, a property owner is under the duty to clear snow and ice as a reasonably prudent property owner would under the circumstances.

In Pennsylvania, snow and ice cases create a little bit of a caveat to the standard negligence and premises liability laws. There’s a doctrine known as “Hills and Ridges Doctrine,” which basically protects land owners from liability from generally slippery conditions resulting from snow and ice, where the owner has not permitted the snow and ice to accumulate, unreasonably, in what are known as hills and ridges, or elevations. This means that a plaintiff generally can’t recover when icy, slippery conditions have only been there for a short time. Instead, they have to show that there were unreasonable accumulations of hills and ridges, which caused them to slip, trip, or fall.

So, in order for a plaintiff to recover for a fall on snow and ice, they must prove that the snow and ice accumulated on the sidewalk in ridges and elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct the travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians travelling thereon. They have to show that the property owner had notice, either actual or constructive, of the existence of such condition and that it was a dangerous accumulation of snow and ice that caused the plaintiff to fall.

There is, however, an exception to the Hills and Ridges Doctrine: a localized patch of ice. If a plaintiff is able to show that they slipped and fell on a localized patch of ice or a specific patch of ice when there were not generally icy or snowy conditions, then the Hills and Ridges Doctrine would not apply.

For more information on Slip-and-Fall Cases in Pennsylvania, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (215) 279-8400 today.

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