February 3, 2011
Every year, thousands of people are injured when they fall on ice or snow, resulting in lost work, medical bills and pain and suffering.
If you fall on ice or snow on someone’s property, you may be able to recover damages for medical expenses, lost income and other costs of the accident.
However, the rules for snow and ice removal vary state to state. So, whether you are a property owner, or if you slip and fall on someone’s property, it’s helpful to understand the law. Here are a few of the basic rules that are used to determine responsibility.
The Natural Accumulation Rule
The Natural Accumulation Rule holds that a property owner is not required to remove ice or snow that accumulates outside his or her building as a result of the weather. However, if a property owner chooses to remove snow and ice, and this removal results in an accumulation of snow that makes the condition worse, then he may liable for any injuries that are caused by the more dangerous condition.
This may seem like a perverse twist on the law. In essence, if you shovel your snow, and do a bad job at your task, then you can be held liable for injury to a pedestrian who slipped on your walk. So, ironically you may be safer staying under the covers instead of going outside to clear the snow!
If you live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, here are the basic rules that govern your rights if you slip and fall on ice and snow.
The Pennsylvania courts have adopted the “Hills and Ridges” doctrine. This means that the owner or occupier of land is not liable for general slippery conditions that arise from the natural accumulation of snow or ice following a recent snowfall as long as the owner of the property has not permitted the ice and snow to an unreasonable accumulation in ridges or elevations.
However, this doctrine does not always apply, especially if the property owner if there is an alteration in the natural conditions. For example, in the case of Harvey v. Rouse Chamberlin, Ltd., 901 A.2d 523 (Pa. Super. 2006), the Superior Court held that the “Hills and Ridges” Doctrine would not apply when Mrs. Harvey fell on a road which had been recently plowed and appeared to be clear and dry, but actually had black ice. The Court found that the land was “influenced by human intervention”, namely snowplowing, such that the ice was not the result of an entirely natural accumulation.
Under New Jersey law, a homeowner is not responsible for removing ice and snow. However, commercial property owners are required by the “Snow Removal Law”, controller of a parking area to remove snow, ice or other obstacles from accessible parking spaces, curb cuts and other improvements designed to provide accessibility within 48 hours after snow has stopped falling.
In Delaware, property managers and owners are required to maintain their premises and are obligated to provide safe conditions for visitors, customers, and members of the public. This applies to the removal of snow and ice like it does to any other situation. A jury could find inadequate removal or non-removal negligent if unreasonable in the circumstances.
Now, your municipality may have an ordinance requiring you to remove ice and snow. If you fail to comply with the local rule, you can be fined. However, a fine from the borough or township does not provide the basis for liability.
The exception to this is when the property owner knows or should know that ice and snow could have created a more dangerous condition than what a pedestrian could reasonably anticipate. In this situation, the property owner is considered negligent if he or she fails to remove the ice and snow.
Removing Ice and Snow from Your Car
Another area for snow and ice removal is the car. Laws in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania exist to punish drivers if ice or snow from their vehicle becomes dislodged and causes injury. In New Jersey, the law also encompasses property damage. In addition, New Jersey recently signed a law that requires drivers to make reasonable efforts to remove “winter debris” from their vehicles prior to driving them. Police ticket vehicles whether snow and ice has actually fallen off the car or caused damage.
Keep these rules in mind and have a safe and healthy season!