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Assumption of Risk as a Viable Defense to Pennsylvania Snow/Ice Slip-and-Fall Claims

April 6, 2016

When a Plaintiff slips and falls on an accumulation of ice and snow, it is standard practice to sue the adjacent business owner, snow removal company, municipalities, and any other entity that may have had a duty to maintain their property. Defense attorneys are assigned the task of refuting Plaintiffs claims that the entities are responsible for the dangerous post-snowstorm condition of the sidewalk. Pennsylvania Courts are allowing the defense theory of common sense to prevail over the oft-referenced Hills and Ridges Doctrine in Pennsylvania -- which attaches liability to a landowner for failure to adequately maintain their property after a snow storm.

In Denzel v. Federal Cleaning Contractor,[1] Pennsylvania recently upheld an assumption of risk defense in a post-snowstorm slip-and-fall case. Plaintiff sustained injuries three days after a snowstorm in 2012, which blanketed the area with approximately a foot-and-a-half of snow, when she slipped-and-fell on patches of ice and snow.  Plaintiff argued that since the Defendant company chose to open their store for business, and hired a snow removal company, they had a duty to protect their business invitees from foreseeable harms.

The Court concluded that Plaintiff’s argument lacked merit and granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant, which was later upheld on appeal in the Superior Court. The Court determined Defendants did in fact owe a duty to Plaintiff to exercise reasonable care to protect her from dangerous conditions that were known or discoverable by the landowner. However, Plaintiff assumed the risk when she admitted to knowingly and voluntarily walking over visible patches of ice snow. 

The Denzel decision illustrates the important principal that there is an inherently assumed risk when traversing a slippery snow patch after a major snow storm. The Court, in holding the Plaintiff responsible for getting injured in a clearly dangerous situation, encourages a common sense approach for analyzing these claims.

For more information, please contact Sharlenn Pratt at sepratt@zarwin.com. 

*This case was not handled by Zarwin Baum attorneys.

[1] 2015 Pa. Dist. & County Lexis 154 (October 22, 2015)

 

 


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