Assumption of the Risk Is Alive and Well in Pennsylvania Snow Cases

By Gina M. Zippilli, Esq.

With the winter months now upon us, it is not surprising that snow cases are “mounting,” and defense attorneys are again put to the task of refuting plaintiffs’ allegations that business owners; snow removal companies; and any other entity a plaintiff can find, failed to properly keep a sidewalk and/or parking lot safe for travel after a snow storm.  At least in Pennsylvania, the defense has received a long overdue application of common sense to these cases as courts in Pennsylvania are starting to find that plaintiffs are responsible for their own actions in these situations.

Denzel v. Federal Cleaning Contractors, 2015 Pa. Dist. & County Lexis 154 (October 22, 2015) illustrates this point.  In Denzel, plaintiff alleged that on February 12, while walking to and from different stores, she slipped and fell on snow and ice on the sidewalk.  As plaintiffs often do in these situations, every possible entity was named as a defendant – the owners of the shopping center where plaintiff fell; the store that sat on the abutting sidewalk; the property manager; and, of course, the snow removal company.

Notably, three days prior to her fall, Pennsylvania got hit with a massive snowstorm that resulted in no less than 17 inches of snow accumulation.   At the time of Plaintiff’s fall, the snow removal company had laborers working at the scene – workers who plaintiff saw removing snow just prior to the incident.  Patches of ice were also seen by plaintiff in and around the area where she ultimately slipped and plaintiff even admitted that she unsuccessfully attempted to bypass the snow and ice.  Ignoring all of these factors, but mainly the expected effects of the aftermath of a blizzard, plaintiff argued that the shopping center, and its agents, had a duty to keep the areas safe for invitees because the shopping center chose to open its businesses after the blizzard.  This argument fell on deaf ears as the court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants based on plaintiff assuming the risk.  Indeed, the court concluded: Defendants owed a duty to plaintiff to exercise reasonable care to protect her from conditions on the land that were known or discoverable to them.  Plaintiff, however, assumed the risk of her injury when she knowingly and voluntarily walked over the patches of snow and ice.

While a broader common sense doctrine can be applied, namely you can expect to slip and fall on ice and/or snow after any snow storm regardless of whether you actually see snow or ice, at least for now some courts are holding plaintiffs responsible for essentially poor decision making.