Slip and Fall Accidents: The Hills and Ridges Doctrine

It is the middle of winter and that means more snow and ice than you can shake a stick at in Western Pennsylvania. Snow and ice are everywhere and it is nearly impossible to avoid it all winter. If you slip on a snow and ice covered parking lot or sidewalk, you may be wondering if you have a cause of action against the property owner for failing to remove the snow and ice from their property. One of the hurdles to bringing a successful slip-and-fall claim is the Hills and Ridges doctrine.

Generally, the Hills and Ridges doctrine states that in order to recover for a fall on a snow and ice covered surface, the plaintiff must show that: 1) the snow and ice accumulated on the surface in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians; 2) the property owner had notice of the dangerous condition, either actual or constructive; 3) the dangerous accumulation of snow and ice caused the plaintiff’s fall.

However, proof of hills and ridges is not required when the hazard is not the result of a generally slippery condition prevailing in the community. This means that if you slip on a parking lot that was improperly plowed, you would not need to prove hills and ridges because you did not slip on an entirely natural accumulation of snow and ice.

Moreover, even if it is not an entirely natural accumulation, a plaintiff cannot simply walk over ice if he or she sees it and appreciates the risk. For example, if you look down and see a patch of black ice, but decide to walk over it anyway, your slip-and-fall claim may be compromised because you may have assumed the risk of your injuries. Ice is always slippery so it would be tough to argue that you did not know you could slip on an ice patch.

Also, the property owner must have notice, either actual or constructive. Actual notice means the property owner was factually aware of the condition, either because it was brought to his attention or he saw it himself. Constructive notice is the type of notice where the property owner “should have been aware.”

For example, imagine an apartment building owner has a property manager responsible for removing snow and ice, but he never visits the property, and a blizzard hit 10 days ago. The property manager may not have actual notice of snow and ice building in its sidewalk, but it has been ten days since the major snowfall. This passage of time may be enough to show that the property manager “should have been aware of the dangerous accumulation of snow and ice” and, therefore, had constructive notice.

At Hal K. Waldman & Associates, we have over 50 years of combined experience representing victims of slip-and-fall accidents. If you or a loved one was injured in a premises liability incident, call us at (412) 338-1000, and leave your legal issues to us.

Source: Morin v. Traveler’s Rest Motel, Inc., 704 A.2d 1085, 1087-1088 (Pa. Super. 1997).

Bacsick v. Barnes, 341 A.2d at 157, 160 (Pa. Super. 1975).