By James McCarthy, Dec 18 2015 04:17PM
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Falling on ice and snow is a very real danger, particularly to the elderly or infirmed. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), falls are the leading cause of nonfatal medically attended injuries in the United States. An astounding fifty-seven percent (57%) of the falls occurred due to slipping, tripping, or stumbling, according to the CDC.
I am often asked (particularly this winter!) if the landowner is responsible for injuries suffered as a result of a fall on a sidewalk because of ice or snow. As is often the case under the law, the answer is “it depends”.
It is common knowledge that in Pennsylvania, an abutting property owner is primarily liable for the removal of ice and snow upon the sidewalk. Solinsky v. Wilkes-Barre, 375 Pa. 87, 93, 99 A.2d 570. The real issue confronting property owners is not “if” they must clear their sidewalks, but “when” must they clear their sidewalks.
When there are generally slippery conditions in the community, landowners are not held to a standard which requires them to constantly keep their sidewalks free of snow and ice.
For example, in one particular December, the sidewalks and roads in the City of Reading and surrounding areas were described as very slippery and icy. There was freezing rain and drizzle all day despite temperatures both above and below freezing. Mrs. Lascoski left her home at approximately 6:10 a.m., intending to walk to church. When she was walking to church, she walked past a bank. Mrs. Lascoski took several steps on their brick sidewalk and slipped on the ice, and fell suffering injuries as a result. The Court dismissed Mrs. Lascoski’s case, stating, “there is no liability created by a general slippery condition on sidewalks. It must appear that there were dangerous conditions due to ridges or elevations which were allowed to remain for an unreasonable length of time, or were created by defendant's antecedent negligence.”
The Lascoski case demonstrated that Landowners must clear their sidewalks in a reasonable time period. So how does an injured person establish that the condition has existed for an unreasonable time period? Rudolph Izzo, on his way for some pizza, fell on an icy sidewalk in front of Brewer's Pizza Shop in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. Mr. Izzo testified concerning the condition of the sidewalk:
Q. What was the condition of the pavement in front of the building?
A. Well, the pizza shop was clear and the other part was icy and lumpy, thick lumps of ice.
Q. Now the ice you described there, would you tell us how thick it was?
A. Well, it was like small lumps of coal.
The court permitted Mr. Izzo to proceed with his case because the lumpy ice indicated that the icy condition was present for an unreasonable time. The Court reasoned that to have “hills and ridges” form in the ice, the ice must have thawed and then froze again.
Also, many municipalities now have ordinances governing snow and ice removal. For example, many municipalities have adopted the International Property Maintenance Code which requires sidewalks to be cleared no later than 24 hours after the snow has stopped. However, the City of Philadelphia requires a clear path of not less than 30 inches in width on all sidewalks abutting the building or premises within 6 hours after the snow has ceased to fall.
CAUTION: The place of the fall (residential or business) and the status of the injured party (trespasser, licensee, or invitee), changes the duties and obligations of the landowner. If you are injured in a fall, you must have your case reviewed by an attorney to determine if a party is at fault. If someone is injured on your sidewalk because of a fall, notify your insurance company immediately.
Jim McCarthy is an attorney at the law firm of McCarthy & McCarthy, P.C. (www.mccarthymccarthy.com) and can be reached at JMcCarthy@McCarthyMcCarthy.com . Nothing in this blog is legal advice. No one should act upon the contents of this blog and should consult an attorney for advice based upon their facts and circumstances before making any decisions.