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Slip and Fall Lawsuit – Duties Related to Icy Sidewalks in PA

Special rules apply to property owners’ duties as to icy and snowy conditions that cause personal injuries in Scranton and elsewhere in Pennsylvania. In a recent slip and fall lawsuit, a Pennsylvania plaintiff appealed from a judgment in favor of the defendant after the denial of her post-trial motion to remove a compulsory nonsuit (dismissal) the court had granted after she presented her case. The case arose when the plaintiff fell on ice on the defendant’s sidewalk. She broke her ankle. Within a year, she filed a complaint for negligence, alleging failure to maintain a safe sidewalk.

The jury trial was held a few years latter. At the close of her evidence the defendant made an oral motion for compulsory nonsuit. The trial court granted the motion. It denied the plaintiff’s subsequent motion to remove the nonsuit motion and entered judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal the plaintiff asked the appellate court to consider whether there was enough evidence for the jury to consider whether she had actual or constructive notice of ice on the sidewalk. She also asked whether there was enough evidence for the jury to consider whether a defect in the sidewalk was the sole cause of her fall.

The appellate court explained that an order denying a motion to remove a nonsuit is only reversed if the trial court abuses its discretion. An abuse of discretion occurs if the court misapplies the law or exercises its discretion in a manner lacking reason.

The appellate court also explained that a grant of nonsuit is appropriate if, after reviewing all evidence in a plaintiff’s favor, the court determines a plaintiff hasn’t established elements in her cause of action.

The plaintiff argued that the record showed the defendant’s actual or constructive notice of the ice on the sidewalk. She argued that whether the risk of harm to licensees was reasonable or not depended on factual circumstances and was a question only for the jury. She also argued that notice, whether actual or constructive, could be shown by conditions that existed for a substantial period of time.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant has constructive notice of the risk to licensees because a depression in the sidewalk existed for a long enough period. The defendant, as the property owner, should have known the ice would accumulate there.

She also argued that because the sidewalk was cracked and uneven, ice accumulated unevenly. She argued that she didn’t need evidence of precipitation to establish constructive notice.

The appellate court explained that somebody who walks on a public sidewalk is a licensee of a business owner. A landowner owes a licensee a duty by a landowner if and only if (1) the land’s possessor knows or has reason to know of the condition and realizes the unreasonable risk of harm that the licensee won’t realize, (2) he fails to exercise reasonable care to make the condition safe or warn of the condition and risk, (3) the licensees don’t know or have reason to know of the condition and risk. Only if all three criteria are present will the possessor be held liable. The court can make this determination if reasonable minds couldn’t different about the result.

This doctrine means a landowner isn’t liable for generally slippery conditions. To always have sidewalks free of ice and snow is an impossible burden in Pennsylvania.

The court explained that in order to recover for a fall on any icy sidewalk, the plaintiff has to prove 1) snow accumulated in ridges or elevations such that they unreasonably obstructed travel and constituted a danger; (2) the property owner had actual or constructive notice of the condition; (3) the plaintiff fell because snow and ice dangerous accumulated.

In this case, there was nothing to suggest actual notice of ice. Nor was there evidence regarding ice of size or character that would impose an unreasonable obstruction. Since there was no actual or constructive notice there was any duty to remove the alleged dangerous condition. The judgment was affirmed.

An experienced Pennsylvania personal injury and slip and fall attorney can evaluate the facts of your particular case if you are hurt because of an entity’s negligence and bring a lawsuit on your behalf if appropriate. Contact the attorneys at Needle Law Firm at 570-344-1266 or via our online form for a free consultation.

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