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Pennsylvania Superior Court Declines to Create Exception to Hills and Ridges Doctrine

By: Julia Jacobelli

On January 31, 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued an opinion which reaffirmed the validity of the hills and ridges doctrine, and provided additional guidance on the scope of the duties of property owners to remove snow and ice from their property.

In Collins v. Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation and Ross’s Home Improvement, Inc., the Superior Court affirmed the decision of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, granting summary judgment on the basis of the hills and ridges doctrine. Plaintiff, David Collins, claimed that on January 21, 2014, he slipped and fell on an ice or snow covered sidewalk on property owned by Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation and leased to Plaintiff’s employer.

On the date in question, it was not an issue of fact that it was actively snowing outside at the time Plaintiff fell; and in fact, Plaintiff admitted during his deposition that he was aware that it had been snowing, and that there was a substantial amount of snow on the ground before his fall.

In light of Plaintiff’s admission that it had been snowing all morning, Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that it did not breach any duty to remove ice and snow during the blizzard under the hills and ridges doctrine. Plaintiff responded to the motion arguing that Defendant was negligent in failing to have the premises pre-treated with a de-icing product prior to the beginning of a forecasted storm. Plaintiff also argued that defendant breached the standard by failing to reduce its contract with the snow removal contractor to a document in writing.

The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas granted the Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Superior Court. In affirming the decision of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, the Superior Court reiterated that the hills and ridges doctrine may be applied only in cases where the snow and ice complained of are the result of a natural accumulation. Because there was no factual dispute that Plaintiff slipped and fell on ice and snow during an active blizzard, it was undisputed that plaintiff fell at a time when “generally slippery conditions” prevailed in the community.

Accordingly, Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation had no duty to remove the ice and snow from the sidewalk between the time the ice and snow started, at approximately 8:30 a.m. and the time the plaintiff fell, at approximately 1:30-2:00 p.m., particularly as the blizzard was ongoing. The Superior Court rejected Plaintiff’s attempt to carve an exception to the hills and ridges doctrine, and refused to recognize an affirmative duty on the part of a landlord or property owner to pre-treat a premises prior to a storm.

In affirming the decision of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the Superior Court also reaffirmed the validity of the premise that the duty of a property owner to ensure a property is safe, and clear of ice and snow, does not begin until a reasonable time after a storm has ceased.

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