Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Summary Judgment Granted in Monroe County Slip and Fall Case

Judge Jennifer Harlacher Sibum of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas recently issued a summary judgment in favor of a Defendant in the slip and fall case of Skulnik v. Tyerman, No. 836-Civil-2011 (C.P. Monroe Co. Feb. 13, 2012 Harlacher Sibum, J.).

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff was allegedly injured as a result of a slip and fall accident that occurred on the Defendant’s driveway leading to a home. The Plaintiff claimed that the Defendants were negligent in failing to provide a safe driveway or warn of a dangerous or defective condition for business invitees.

The Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that the Plaintiff was unable to show that dangerous levels of snow and ice accumulated so as to render the Defendant’s liable under the hills and ridges doctrine. The Defendants also asserted that he Plaintiff failed to connect the driveway conditions as a cause of his fall.

In her Opinion, Judge Harlacher Sibum confirmed that the Plaintiff was indeed a business invitee of the Defendants. According to the Opinion, accompanied by a professional inspector, visited the property in order to inspect its physical condition. The property at issue had been listed for sale by the Defendants who had invited individuals to come and view the property.

However, the Court found that, based upon the record presented, the Plaintiff had failed to offer evidence that the Defendants knew or should have known of any alleged dangerous condition on the premises.

According to the Opinion, the Defendant had testified that she saw no snow on the driveway on the morning of the incident. She also noted that her husband had still salted the driveway, a task he performed every morning prior to leaving to work. The record also showed that the Defendants were not even made aware of this alleged slip and fall incident until receiving a call from a claims adjuster several days after the fact.

Reviewing the Plaintiff’s testimony, the Plaintiff had asserted that there was a light snow in the driveway when he arrived at the property. The Plaintiff admitted that he did not recall having any trouble walking to the garage and did not feel any slippage of his feet. The Plaintiff also stated that he had no recollection of seeing anything on the driveway that caused him any concern. The Plaintiff additionally confirmed in his deposition testimony that he had not informed the Defendants of any dangerous conditions of the driveway prior to the time he fell.

The Court also found that the Plaintiff failed to meet the requirements of the hills and ridges doctrine. The hills and ridges doctrine provides that, given the impossible burden of requiring people to always keep their walkways free of ice and snow under the existing climatic conditions, provides that an owner or occupier of land is not liable for falls occurring on the property where generally slippery conditions exist unless the owner or possessor of land has allowed the ice and snow to unreasonably accumulate in ridges or elevations.

The Court found that the Plaintiff had failed to show any evidence of snow and ice that had accumulated in any ridges or elevations of such a nature that his travel was unreasonably obstructed or dangerous. The Plaintiff also failed to show that the possessors of land had any notice of any such alleged condition. Rather, the Plaintiff had only testified that there was a “light” snow on the driveway no more than one half in accumulations. The Court reiterated that the Plaintiff admitted that she did not recall having any problems walking up the driveway at his arrival to the premises.

In the absence of any evidence to support the same, the Court rejected the Plaintiff’s claim that he felt a “ridge” of ice under the light snow after he fell when he was pushing himself off of the ground. The Court noted that, in any event, the Plaintiff had no personal knowledge as to the length of time that that ridge allegedly existed prior to his incident. Based upon the Plaintiff’s testimony, the Court also found that, even if the Plaintiff’s testimony was accepted, the alleged accumulation of snow and ice, as described, was not in a ridge or elevation of such size in nature that travel was unreasonably obstructed or constituted a danger to pedestrians.

Lastly, the Court also found that the Plaintiff had not connected the allegedly dangerous accumulation of ice and snow to the fall that occurred.

Rather, a review of the Plaintiff’s testimony not only indicated that there was a very small accumulation of snow, that he never saw any “ridges,” and that he did not experience any slippage under his feet when he first arrived at the property. The evidence also confirmed that, with regards to the fall, the Plaintiff only testified that he was standing next to the inspector and the next thing the Plaintiff new, he had fallen to the ground. During his deposition testimony, the Plaintiff stated that he was merely standing and fell.

The Court found that the Plaintiff’s testimony describing a fall while standing in the driveway was not enough to support a claim that the driveway conditions caused the fall. The Court noted that mere speculation that the ice and snow caused the fall is not enough under the burden of proof required.

Based upon the above, the Court found that the Plaintiff’s claims were barred both by general principles of negligence as well as the hills and ridges doctrine. Accordingly, the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.

Anyone desiring a copy of this case may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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