In Heichel v. Smith, the plaintiff claimed she slipped on ice and fell on the defendant’s parking lot resulting in various injuries. Following discovery, the defendant moved for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiff had failed to establish that her fall had been caused by icy conditions in the defendant’s parking lot. The defendant argued that the plaintiff had only produced evidence of the parking lot’s general slippery conditions. However, the plaintiff failed to produce evidence that ice had accumulated in the specific area in which she fell. In fact, the plaintiff’s expert report only discussed the general slippery conditions of the parking lot and not the conditions of the area which the plaintiff allegedly fell. Further, there was no testimony or evidence giving rise to the inference that the slippery conditions in the parking lot had even been caused by the defendant’s negligence.
In response, the plaintiff countered that summary judgment was not appropriate, as the court had failed to properly apply the hills and ridges doctrine. Under this doctrine, in order for a plaintiff to recover, the plaintiff must show that the ridges or elevations, and not just generally slippery conditions, were the cause the plaintiff’s fall. The plaintiff contended that there had been sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant’s actions had created a dangerous man-made condition that substantially increased the plaintiff’s risk of injury.
The court disagreed. Applying basic negligence standards, the court reasoned that there was a lack of evidence showing that the plaintiff’s fall was caused by conditions in the parking lot. Further, the court noted that, under Pennsylvania law, a party cannot be held liable for general slippery conditions. In order for liability to attach, a plaintiff would need to adduce evidence demonstrating a party’s negligence. In this instant matter, summary judgment was properly granted, as there was no evidence to support a finding that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s fall.
Thus, this case demonstrates, evidence of general slippery / poor weather conditions, on the day of an accident, will often times be insufficient for a plaintiff to prevail in a slip and fall. Moreover, a lack of evidence regarding the conditions in the specific area which a plaintiff alleges to have fallen may provide a viable basis for a summary judgment motion.
Thanks to Colleen Hayes for her contribution to this post.