Thursday, January 14, 2010

Defense Verdict Upheld in Icy Slip and Fall Case

In the recent case of Tucker v. Bensalem Twp. School Dist., 2009 WL 4877767 (Dec. 17, 2009)(Leavitt, J., Kelley, S.J., Flaherty, S.J.), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania sustained a defense verdict in favor of a school district in a parking lot slip and fall accident involving black ice.

This case only involved claims of negligent failure to maintain the parking lot and did not involve any allegations of a negligent design of the lot.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court's findings that the jury properly concluded that the Plaintiff failed to establish a cause of action for negligence. The Commonwealth Court noted that a property owner is not required to keep his parking lot free from ice at all times, as climatic conditions would make doing so impossible. The Court further stated that there is no liability under the law where, as here, the situation involved a generally slippery condition from recent and ongoing precipitation.

Also, in order for a person to recover for injuries sustained in a fall on ice, they must prove that there was a dangerous condition due to ridges or elevations which were created by a defendant's negligence, or which were allowed to remain for an unreasonable length of time, i.e. they must meet the Hills and Ridges Doctrine. Here, the Plaintiff only alleged and offered proof of clear and smooth black ice that was repeatedly and generally forming on the ground at or about the time of the incident. In the Opinion, it was noted that the local roads and parking lots were all icy and slippery due to the weather.

Testimony further revealed that the parking lot had been plowed and salted before the incident. The Court found that, based upon the disputed evidence presented by both sides, the jury was free to conclude that the plowing and salting of the lot was not negligently completed under the circumstances.

Rather, according to the decision, "the jury had substantial evidence to conclude, as it obviously did, that [the Plaintiff] fell because of the slippery surface caused by bad weather in the nature of a generally icy condition rather than the negligence of the School District. The verdict is consistent with the applicable law."

As such, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the decision of the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas to deny the motion for a new trial filed by the Plaintiff.

Those not having access to this Opinion on Westlaw, may view it at: http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/Cwealth/out/851CD09_12-17-09.pdf.

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