With Chambersburg’s Ice Fest in mind, as well as each Snowpocalypse that hits the mid-Atlantic each week, property owners and occupiers should be aware of the hills and ridges doctrine.
This is a doctrine of Pennsylvania premises liability law that can protect owners and occupiers of land from liability to entrants who slip and fall in accumulated ice. It is predicated on the assumption that in a climate like we have here, snow and ice tends to accumulate over time as a natural phenomenon.
Therefore, in the event of a storm, the landowner need not keep up with the snowfall, continually clearing sidewalks and parking lots as the snow is falling. This is especially true in the event of snowfalls as we have experienced in recent weeks. However, once the snow and ice begins to accumulate into hills and ridges, landowners must be aware of dangerous conditions.
Specifically, an entrant who slips and falls in the snow and ice can maintain a suit against the landowner if the entrant can show that a dangerous condition existed; that the property owner was aware of the dangerous condition; and the property owner failed to act within a reasonable period of time to remove the snow and ice once he or she had notice.
See Biernacki v. Presque Isle Condominium Unit Owners, 828 A.2d 1114 (Pa. Super 2003). The landowner should be aware that notice is actual or constructive i.e., the landowner knew or by reason of due care should have known of the existence of the dangerous condition. Obviously, the best way for the owner or occupier to protect itself is to make sure all ice and snow is cleared and not allowed to accumulate over time. To the extent that the owner/occupier has tenants or customers visiting the properties, all areas that such tenants or customers are expected to access should be cleared and not allowed to develop into hills and ridges.