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WHAT IS THE "HILLS AND RIDGES" DOCTRINE?

If you slip and fall on someone's property in Pennsylvania in the wintertime, you might not have much recourse in a premises liability lawsuit. That's because of something known as the "hills and ridges doctrine," which limits property owners' liability for accidents caused by natural and recent accumulation of ice and snow. 

The rule recognizes that because of the climate in Pennsylvania, property owners cannot always be on hand to immediately clear snow and ice from property whenever snow and ice occurs. If a person slips and falls on naturally occurring black ice or recently fallen snow, that person would generally not have grounds for a successful lawsuit. However, if a person were to slip and fall on accumulated ice and snow that a property owner negligently failed to clear over time and should have known existed, that person may be able to prevail in a premises liability lawsuit. 

In order for such a lawsuit to succeed, however, the plaintiff would have to prove that a dangerous condition existed that prevented safe passage; that the property owner had reason to know about such condition; and that the condition itself was the reason for injuries sustained in the accident. 

While the hills and ridges doctrine creates a barrier for injured persons to receive compensation for real and sometimes severe injuries, it protects property owners from being sued for winter weather conditions over which they have no control. Winter is unpredictable, and so pedestrians must exercise reasonable care in those months to avoid injury. However, some exceptions to apply to this rule. For example, in cases where a property owner salts a naturally occurring ice accumulation, but then neglects to clear (or drain) the water, the standing water may then re-freeze, creating a slippery condition that would no longer qualify as "naturally occurring." In that case, the property owner who attempts to address an icy sidewalk condition may end up ironically facing greater liability than the property owner who doesn't try at all. 

If you have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident because of snow and ice accumulation, an experienced premises liability attorney can evaluate the details of your accident to determine if you might be able to pursue compensation through the legal system. 

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