Winter Slip-and-Fall Injuries: Who is Liable?


This winter has been an unusual one for the entire state of Pennsylvania. Unusually low temperatures, combined with above average snowfall, have created hazardous conditions on sidewalks throughout the state. Serious slip-and-fall injuries can occur if sidewalks and walkways are not cleared of snow and ice. But whose responsibility is it to ensure that sidewalks and walkways remain clear?

The General Rule

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that a landowner whose property abuts the sidewalk is primarily liable for the removal of ice and snow upon that sidewalk. Pennsylvania law requires that homeowners clear their sidewalks and walkways of snow and ice within a “reasonable time” after a storm. A “reasonable time” depends upon the circumstances. After a normal snowstorm, which creates conditions ranging from icy sidewalks to 6 inches of snow accumulation, most homeowners can shovel snow and treat ice within a 24-hour period. For more extreme storms, a “reasonable time” might be a few days or even a week.

The Doctrine of Hills and Ridges

There is, however, an exception to this general rule, known as the “The Doctrine of Hills and Ridges.” Under this legal doctrine, in order for an injured plaintiff to recover, he or she must show that ridges or elevations, rather than generally slippery conditions, were the cause of the fall. Therefore, the law does not require that a landowner’s sidewalks are always free of snow and ice – this would impose a near impossible burden on the landowner. Rather, in order to recover, a plaintiff must meet the higher burden of the Doctrine of Hills and Ridges – showing that the injury was caused by more than just a simple accumulation of snow and ice on someone’s property.

How to Minimize the Risk of Slip-and-Fall Injuries

There are several steps that can be taken to minimize or reduce the risk of winter slip-and-fall injuries. For starters, limiting one’s exposure to hazardous conditions is always a good idea. If you do have to venture out in the elements, ensure that you have the proper footwear to trudge through snow and ice. Finally, doing a few balancing exercises each day can help you regain your balance should you start to slip.

Icy sidewalks and walkways are especially treacherous for the elderly. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 700,000 Americans ages 65 and older are hospitalized each year due to fall injuries. Elderly people are more likely to break or fracture a bone when they fall due to osteoporosis, a disease that weakens their bones. People with osteoporosis should take calcium and vitamin D supplements to help strengthen their bones, and should find someone to do simple chores for them in the winter, such as shoveling snow or grocery shopping.

Contact a Pennsylvania Slip-and-Fall Attorney

Despite the best precautions, winter slip-and-fall accidents do happen. If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a slip-and-fall on an icy sidewalk, you need to speak with an experienced slip-and-fall attorney. Contact Solnick & Associates today.

Photo Credit: *Arielle* via Compfight cc