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Letter of the Law

January 20, 2006

PROPERTY OWNER'S LIABILITY FOR ICE AND SNOW ON SIDEWALKS

I. GENERAL RULE:



Our Courts do not impose an unreasonable duty upon a land owner to keep its sidewalks completely free from ice and snow. This rule is based upon practical considerations that it would be unfair to impose an impossible burden upon property owners, in view of the climatic conditions in Pennsylvania during the winter. Land owners are not absolute guarantors of the safety of persons upon their property, and in order to be held liable, it must be shown that an injury was caused as the result of a defective condition; that the land owner had notice of such condition; and had a reasonable opportunity to correct the condition prior to the injury. Actual notice is not required, and a land owner may be held liable if, given the particular situation, he "should have known" of the dangerous condition.



Because of the fact that snow and ice create transient danger upon sidewalks, the only duty upon a land owner is to remove the snow and ice within a reasonable period of time after he knew or should have known that the condition has become dangerous.



II. CONDITIONS CREATING LIABILITY:



A. Hills and Ridges



In Pennsylvania, a land owner will be held liable for injuries sustained upon his property, where snow and ice has accumulated upon a sidewalk in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and as to constitute a danger to pedestrians traveling thereon. The "Hills and Ridges" doctrine is a common sense rule based upon the inference that a development of "hills and ridges" occurs over a period of time during which a land owner would have had a reasonable opportunity to have eliminated the danger.



For instance, Paul, while walking along a sidewalk on David's property during a period of freezing rain slips on David's sidewalk and is serious injured. The evidence shows that, at the time of the fall, slippery conditions existed throughout the entire community and Paul was aware, himself, of the dangers associated with such conditions. Because of the fact that David did not have a reasonable opportunity to have prevented such condition, David will not be held liable for Paul's injury. If, however, the evidence had shown that at the time of Paul's fall, ice and snow had been permitted to accumulate, thus giving David a reasonable opportunity to have eliminated the dangers caused thereby, David may be held liable for Paul's injury.

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