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April 27, 2006

The Doctrine of “Hills and Ridges”

Pennsylvania Courts continue to adhere to the established common law regarding legal duties imposed on landowners. For snow and ice conditions, the Pennsylvania courts apply the Doctrine of “Hills and Ridges.” The Doctrine of Hills and Ridges only applies to paved areas where pedestrians are expected to travel. Under this Doctrine, in order for a plaintiff to recover she must show that ridges or elevations, and not just generally slippery conditions, were the cause of the fall. Rinaldi v. Levine, 176 A.2d 623 (Pa. 1962).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held an abutting property owner is primarily liable for the removal of ice and snow upon the sidewalk, Solinsky v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 375 Pa. 87, 93, 99 A.2d 570. However the law, wisely, does not require that such abutting owner keep the sidewalk free from snow and ice at all times: to hold otherwise would require the impossible in view of the climatic conditions. A plaintiff must show more than a simple accumulation of snow and ice on one’s property to satisfy the hills and ridges doctrine. Knight v. Pocmont Lodge, 37 Pa. D. & C.4th 353 (1997). Instead, a plaintiff must show the existence of evidence on the record that indicated the accumulation of snow was allowed to exist unreasonably. ld.

As such, the Supreme Court held: “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.” Rinaldi, 176 A.2d at 625. Therefore, a duty is placed upon the property owner or tenant to act within a reasonable time after notice to remove [the snow and ice] when it is in a dangerous condition.” Gilligan v. Villanova University, 584 A.2d 1005, 1007 (Pa. Super. 1991).

In order to recover for a fall on an ice or snow-covered sidewalk, a plaintiff must prove (1) that snow and ice had accumulated on the sidewalk in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians traveling thereon; (2) that the property owner had notice, either actual or constructive, or the existence of such condition; (3) that it was the dangerous accumulation of snow and ice which caused the plaintiff to fall. ld.

However, the courts have recognized an exception to the Doctrine of Hills and Ridges when the cause of the icy condition occurs from a defect existing in the underlying surface. For example, in Clayton v. Durham, 417 A.2d 1196 (Pa. Super. 1980), the court found an exception when sidewalk depression caused water to accumulate and freeze. There is a growing trend in Pennsylvania for plaintiffs’ attorneys to plead underlying sidewalk or parking lot imperfections under snow/ice to avoid the stringent “Hills and Ridges” doctrine. 

What It Means to You

To understand the implications of the Doctrine of Hills and Ridges and it exceptions, please contact a member of Cipriani & Werner’s Premises Liability group to review your situation.
 

Sources

Rinaldi v. Levine, 176 A.2d 623 (Pa. 1962)