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When Ice Is Created by Human Interference: How Does That Affect a Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit?

Two years ago, we blogged about Pennsylvania’s “hills and ridges” doctrine, which essentially provides that a property owner has no duty to correct or take reasonable measures with regard to storm-created snowy or icy conditions until a reasonable time after the storm has ceased.

But what happens when the ice and snow that causes a slip-and-fall accident was not the result of natural accumulation, but rather human interference? Is the property owner still afforded protection from legal liability under the hills and ridges doctrine?

A Pennsylvania trial court recently said “no.”

Runoff Water

Dugans v. Concorde West, LLC, involved a major snowstorm that took place from Jan. 22 through Jan. 23, 2016. On Jan. 24, a tenant who resided in an apartment complex undertook the task of clearing snow from around his vehicles. While doing so, he slipped and fell on a patch of ice that remained under a thin layer of snow. He contended that the icy condition was created by runoff water from gutters and downspouts and that the water was permitted to re-freeze when salt was not properly applied to the area. The tenant filed a personal injury lawsuit, alleging that he suffered significant financial loss as a result of injuries he sustained in the accident, including injuries to his left arm and shoulder.

The property owner sought to have the tenant’s lawsuit dismissed relying, in part, on an argument that the hills and ridges doctrine absolved it from legal liability.

Entirely Natural Accumulation

In refusing to dismiss the lawsuit, the trial court noted that the law provides that the hills and ridges doctrine is only applicable when the ice and snow at issue are the result of an “entirely natural” accumulation. The court made clear that is not the condition that the tenant is alleging in his case:

In this case, Plaintiff is specifically alleging that the ice upon which he fell was not the result of a natural accumulation, but rather was the result of human interference. More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the storm water drainage system at the property, including gutters and downspouts, was improperly designed, constructed, and maintained such that the water runoff therefrom was directed to flow on sidewalks, roadways, and driveways at the property, resulting in the creation of puddles that then formed into ice, which was not properly abated.

Conclusion

The good news for the tenant is that he can proceed with his lawsuit. This outcome is yet another example of how legal results are dependent upon the unique facts and circumstances of each case. As always, if you have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident, we recommend consulting with a personal injury attorney immediately to ensure that your legal rights are protected.