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Weathering the Storm

Mar 21, 2018 - News by

An Overview of Snow and Ice Related Premises Liability Standards for

Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia

When snow and ice accumulate, property owners and occupants run the risk of liability in the event of a slip and fall accident.  The premises liability standards pertaining to snow and ice conditions can be complex due to evolving case law and the myriad of issues that can impact the outcome of a given case.  

The attorneys at Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers LLP have prepared a white paper setting forth a survey and overview of the standards for snow and ice-related premises liability in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia. The paper outlines the duty of care required of owners/occupants in each state as well as potential defenses to liability.  Key points addressed in the paper are as follows:

1.Pennsylvania:   Owners and occupants of property in Pennsylvania may be able to use the long-standing “Hills and Ridges” doctrine as a defense to liability in slip and fall claims.  This doctrine protects defendants from liability for generally slippery conditions because the plaintiff must establish that the owner permitted ice and snow to unreasonably accumulate in “ridges and elevations.”  While the Hills and Ridges Doctrine is a well-used defense in liability claims, Pennsylvania courts have carved out several exceptions to this defense.

2.New Jersey:   In New Jersey, the duty owed to a person coming on to land depends upon the status of the plaintiff:  invitee, licensee, or trespasser.  Where a plaintiff does not fall into one of these well-defined categories, the court will undertake a “duty analysis” to determine whether a duty is owed and the scope of the duty.  New Jersey has also developed a body of case law addressing premises liability standards for specific types of property, including common areas, parking lots, sidewalks and residential areas.

3. New York:   While a trespasser is not precluded from recovery in a slip and fall claim, if the trespasser’s presence on the land or actions which led to the injury were not foreseeable, this lack of foreseeability can serve as a valid defense to a liability claim.  In snow and ice cases, the duty owed by the owner/occupant of the land is one of exercising reasonable care in removing or piling snow and not creating a hazard in the process.  Property owners and occupants in New York may be able to avoid liability for snow and ice accidents by asserting the “storm in progress” defense

.4. Maryland:   In Maryland, the owner/occupier of land has a duty to inspect for hidden dangers, warn invitees of known or hidden dangers and take reasonable precautions against foreseeable dangers. In cases involving snow and ice, Maryland courts have held that property owners can be found negligent when their employees knew or should have known that ice had formed and failed to take action to rectify the condition.  It is important to note that Maryland is a pure contributory negligence jurisdiction, meaning that any negligence on the part of the plaintiff can serve as a total bar to his or her claim.

5. Delaware:   In Delaware, the specific rules for determining owner/occupant negligence in premises liability cases turn upon the status of the party entering the premises. Business invitees are owed the highest duty of care, followed by licensees, then trespassers. In snow and ice-related cases, Delaware law has a well settled doctrine known as the “Continuous Storm Doctrine” which generally permits landowners to wait until the end of a storm to begin the snow removal process.

6, West Virginia:  West Virginia has limited case law addressing snow and ice-related premises liability claims.   In a 1999 case, the Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia eliminated the legal distinction between invitees, licensees and trespassers and categorized individuals coming onto the land as either trespassers or non-trespassers. Section 55-7-28 of the West Virginia Code codifies the “open and obvious” doctrine which holds that a property owner/occupant does not owe a duty of care to protect others when the dangers are “open, obvious, reasonably apparent or as well known to the person injured as they are to the owner or occupant.”

To learn more about premises liability standards for snow and ice claims in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia, we invite you to review the complete white paper.