Blizzard Conditions Block Lawsuit (PA)

On January 31, 2018, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed an entry of summary judgement in favor of Pennsylvania Suburban Development Corporation in Collins v. PSDC  The case stems from a slip-and-fall which occurred on an ice/snow covered sidewalk owned by PSDC and leased to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (“PBPP”).  David Collins, an employee of PBPP, was walking on the ice/snow covered sidewalk when he slipped and fell.  As a result of the fall, Collins filed a complaint against PSDC and Ross’s Home Improvement (“Ross’s”) seeking damages for his injuries.  Collins’ wife also sought damages for loss of consortium.  Thereafter, Collins filed an amended complaint naming as additional defendants Earl Ross, Ecosystem Gardening, Goodman & Ross Trucking, Excavation Construction, LLC, and EVR Landscaping.

On August 2, 2016, PSDC moved for summary judgement, arguing no duty to remove ice/snow from its sidewalks during a blizzard, and therefore, no breach of any duty owed to Collins.  PSDC argued that Collins admitted that it had been a “blizzard occurring” as the snow had been falling since the early morning on the day of the accident.  PSDC presented further testimony as well as video evidence of the snow accumulation on the date of the accident.  The trial court granted PSDC motion for summary judgement based on the hills and ridges doctrine.  The remainder of the case proceeded to arbitration and Collins was awarded the maximum of $50,000 against all remaining defendants.  Collins’ wife was also awarded $50,000 for her loss of consortium claim.

Collins appealed the trial court’s grant of summary judgement in favor of PSDC alleging that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether they met an exception to the hills and ridges doctrine.  Collins argument is threefold: (1) there is no evidence that PSDC made any attempts to have the premises pretreated with a deicing product; (2) Collins’ expert testified that the standards for its snow removal agreement with Ross’s should have been in writing; and (3) a defective condition (a ramp) was hidden by the snow mounds and contributed to Collins’ fall.

The court quickly disposed of these arguments by Collins as they agreed with the trial court that the hills and ridges doctrine applied.  The court stated that there was no factual dispute that Collins slipped during an active blizzard and that, under prevailing law, a landowner has obligation to correct a condition under the hills and ridges doctrine until a reasonable time after a winter storm has ended.  Therefore, PSDC had no obligation to begin the process of snow removal at the time of Collins’ fall because the “blizzard” was still ongoing.  The court also briefly stated that a property owner is not required to pretreat a sidewalk under the hills and ridges doctrine and PSDC was not obligated to put its contract with Ross’s in writing.  Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling and concluded that PSDC was entitled to summary judgement.  Thanks to Garrett Gittler for his contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.