Pennsylvania is home to some of the most picturesque winter landscapes you will see. While those cold images of Philadelphia blanketed in snow or icicles hanging from the eaves of a little country home are beautiful and romantic, the reality of winter in the Keystone state is one of treacherous walkways, slick stairs, and frozen parking lots.
Slip, trip, and fall accidents can happen at any time, anywhere. Many people believe that it is their fault the accident happened or are too embarrassed to reach out for legal help. Many slip, trip, and fall accidents happen at family and friends homes and businesses, and it seems wrong to sue. Often, it seems there is no help for someone who was injured in a slip, trip, and fall.
The laws of the United States and Pennsylvania are designed to protect you from expensive medical bills after you are injured in an accident that is not your fault. Businesses and homeowners have insurance specifically to prevent you from having to live a life of pain and suffering after an accident. The Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky will help you navigate the complex process of filing a claim for your injuries, prevent insurance companies from using the law against you to settle for less than you need, and make sure that you and your family get the help you will need from the first call until long after we win your case.
Pennsylvania requires all businesses, rental properties, and public agencies to clear ice and snow from public walkways, pathways, stairwells, and parking areas. Many cities such as Philadelphia also have specific rules in place to prevent injuries to the public resulting from accumulated snow and ice.
The courts have recognized that it is not reasonable to require responsible parties to clear snow and ice immediately, or to ensure that ice and snow accumulations during non-business hours are the sole responsibility of the property owner. Numerous other limitations to filing claims for slip, trip, and fall injuries in icy and snowy conditions exist that are often used by insurance company lawyers to limit or prevent claims.
Known as the “Hills and Ridges Doctrine,” Pennsylvania courts recognize that specific conditions must exist before a property owner can be held liable for injuries resulting from a slip, trip, and fall. The Hills and Ridges Doctrine guides the courts by stating that property owners that fail to clear accumulations of snow and ice that create an uneven, slippery, and unnecessarily dangerous situation are in violation of the duty to protect the public from harm.
The Hills and Ridges Doctrine has been used to defend property owners numerous times. Many property owners have been shielded from responsibility by applying the condition that icy and snowy conditions must prevail in the community. By using this provision, lawyers are able to successfully argue that clearing ice and snow would present an impossible requirement, potentially eliminating or reducing responsibility. A case won by defendants in 2012 found that an individual who was injured in a slip and fall accident did not meet the threshold for a premises liability because the accident happened after business hours and on smooth ice that was free of ridges and valleys.
Similarly, the courts have rejected claims that arise during an active storm. Several plaintiffs have brought slip and fall claims caused by accumulated ice and snow in recent years, only to lose. The courts have reasoned that slip and falls that happen during times of active storm activity are not the liability of the owner of the property. Several cases, though, have been found in favor of claimants when the walkway itself was defective and was the cause of the slip, trip, and fall.
Winter brings an abundance of weather to Philadelphia. Some days, we see freezing rain, snow, black ice, and wind. Conditions like these create treacherous situations for drivers and pedestrians alike. The City of Philadelphia has specific laws for how residents must handle their property to avoid fines and the possibility of a premises liability lawsuit.
Philadelphia Code 10-270 requires property owners to clear a 36” pathway unless the total sidewalk width is less than 36”, in which case a 12” path is mandated. Owners must comply within six hours of when snow ceases to fall or be subject to fines. Fines range from $50 to $300 and can be compounded by the number of days the owner is in violation. A fine may also be issued for owners who shovel snow into the street.
Hundreds of ice & Snow-related slip and fall accidents happen every winter in Pennsylvania, but few people injured actually seek a legal remedy. Often, people do not file a claim because they believe they are at fault, or they do not want to get the responsible person in trouble.
Generally, personal injury law in Pennsylvania is not a “punitive” system. Settlements and awards are intended to cover medical costs, lost wages, and provide relief from the consequences of an injury. Typically, settlements and awards are not used to make an example of a responsible person. The exception is when the responsible persons conduct is so egregious as to rise to the level of malicious intent. A person would have to deliberately create a slip and fall hazard with the intention of causing harm for a claim in Pennsylvania to merit a punitive award.
Instead, personal injury awards and settlements are negotiated between attorneys and insurance agents. Medical care and costs are accounted for through discussion, and in nearly all cases, a settlement agreement is reached. Very few slip and fall claims go to trial.
Pennsylvania law places responsibility of ice and snow removal on property owners or persons who are in charge of maintaining public safety. The law requires that snow and ice be removed from all public walkways, ramps, stairs, and parking areas. Homeowners are responsible for the sidewalk in front of their home. Rental communities are the responsibility of the property owner, not the renters. Retail businesses are generally responsible for all or part of the walkways, ramps, stairs, and parking areas.
In many cases, property owners will hire a company to clear ice and snow.Most companies have contracts indemnifying property owners of liability for slip and fall accidents once the clearing work has been completed. However, property owners may still be held liable for injuries caused after a company has cleared an area and the property owner has shoveled snow back into the cleared area. Under the law, property owners must have known or been able to conclude that a dangerous situation was probable and failed to correct it.
The presence of ice and snow in and of itself is not enough to win a claim of slip and fall in Pennsylvania. The law that is established requires the presence of “ridges and valleys” typically the result of ice melting and refreezing over a period of several hours. When fresh snow falls, it tends to make these areas appear as flat surfaces, but can easily cause serious falls. The courts have ruled that minor indentations, such as those left by footprints, do not constitute ridges and valleys. The surface must be sufficient to present an obstacle to travel.
In order to win a claim of slip and fall on ice and snow in Pennsylvania, the injured person must also prove that the accumulated ice and snow caused the slip and fall. This can often be the most difficult aspect of proving a claim. There is no standard for what constitutes a “ridge or hill”, or even what amounts to an “obstruction.” Rather, the courts take each case individually and will examine whether a responsible person had time to clear the path, what the conditions in relation to similar areas were at the time of the injury, and whether the path was unnecessarily dangerous.
The Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky have won hundreds of ice and snow-related slip and fall cases. Our decades of experience in Philadelphia gives us an unprecedented level of knowledge of the unique laws. We are intricately familiar with the tactics used by insurance companies who are focused on profit margins, not your health. The slip and fall lawyers at the Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky only care about making sure you or your injured loved one receives the medical, financial, and long-term help you need to recover from an ice and snow slip and fall accident.
Our staff and injury lawyers will examine the facts of your claim and identify all potential responsible parties. We will make sure that you do not lose benefits because you filed against the wrong person, or did not file against all of those who have responsibility. We make sure that your court documents are filed correctly, completely, and on time, so you do not have to worry about the procedure, just the healing. Most importantly, our lawyers make sure that insurance agents intent on settling your case quickly for as little as they can get away with do not bully you and your family into a settlement that leaves you with a lifetime of pain.
Our risk-free consultation is designed to provide an opportunity for the slip and fall lawyers at the Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky to hear your complaints in your own words, and give you peace of mind and a solid idea of how we can progress with making sure your rights are safe.