Thursday, December 6, 2012

Two Recent Premises Liability Decisions of Note from Judge Zulick of Monroe County

 Koeppel v. PNC Bank, N.A.

In his recent decision in the case of Koeppel v. PNC Bank, N.A., PICS Case No. 12-2203 (C.P. Monroe Co. Oct. 11, 2012 Zulick, J.), Judge Arthur L. Zulick of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas found that the hills and ridges doctrine barred a Plaintiff’s negligence claim as the Plaintiff failed to present evidence that the Defendants allowed for an accumulation “in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians[.]”  As such, the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.  

 By way of background the Plaintiffs alleged personal injuries after falling in the parking lot of the PNC Bank in Tannersville, Pennsylvania.   The record before the court was that an ice storm had passed through the area the evening before.  

Judge Zulick noted that the hills and ridges doctrine protects the possessor of land from liability for generally slippery conditions caused by ice and snowfall where the owner has not permitted the ice and/or snow to unreasonably accumulate into ridges and elevations.   It was also noted that, in order for the hills and ridges defense to apply, there must be generally icy or snowy conditions naturally arising in the area and the possessor of land must not have allowed the ice and/or snow to have accumulated into ridges and elevations.   The court emphasized that the accumulation at issue must be the result of an entirely natural occurrence, as opposed to any man made condition, for the defense to apply.  

 In this matter, the Plaintiff argued, relying upon Harvey v. Rouse Chamberlain, Ltd., 901 A.2d 523 (Pa. Super. 2006), that the hills and ridges doctrine did not apply because the accumulation at issue was not a natural occurrence, but rather, was allegedly due to the Defendant’s snow removal efforts prior to her accident.  

 In this matter, Judge Zulick found that the Plaintiff did not bring forth any evidence that the Defendants’ snow removal efforts led to the slippery conditions at issue.   Judge Zulick found the case before him to be more in line with the case of Beck v. Holly Tree Homeowners Ass’n., 689 F.Supp 2d 756 (E.D. Pa. 2001).  In this case, as in Beck, there was no evidence that the ice upon which the Plaintiff fell was formed as a result of any snow plowing efforts by the Defendant.  

 Accordingly, summary judgment was entered in favor of the defense.
This case has been appealed to the Superior Court.
Anyone desiring a copy of this decision may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

Judge Arthur L. Zulick
Monroe County
Yohey v. Crupi
In his recent decision in the case of Yohey v. Crupi, PICS Case No. 12-2201 (C.P. Monroe Co. Oct. 16, 2012 Zulick, J.), Judge Arthur L. Zulick of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas entered summary judgment in favor of a Defendant after finding that a one-half inch differential in the elevation of the sidewalk where the Plaintiff fell amounted to only a trivial defect for which the Defendants were not liable under any claim of negligence.   

At the time of the incident, the Plaintiff was leaving a pizza shop under rainy conditions.   Other patrons were running towards the restaurant to escape the rain.  The Plaintiff stepped to the right in order to make room for the oncoming patrons.   As she moved, the Plaintiff stepped on to an uneven portion of the pavement and fell.    

The court noted that, during her deposition testimony, the Plaintiff admitted that she was not looking where she was stepping and did not see what caused her to fall.   However, the Plaintiff’s daughter, who was present at the time of the incident, was able to identify the location of the fall by pointing to a photograph during her deposition  testimony.   The court noted that one portion of the sidewalk was one half inch vertically lower than the surrounding sidewalk in the area of the Plaintiff's alleged fall. 

In response to the Defendant’s trivial defect defense, the Plaintiffs asserted that the Defendants’ alleged negligence was an issue to be determined by a jury.  

Judge Zulick noted the law that “[a]n elevation, depression, or irregularity in a sidewalk may be so trivial that the court, as a matter of law, is bound to hold that there was no negligence in permitting it to exist.”   The court also noted that there was no definite or mathematically rule that determines whether or to a defect is trivial.   Rather, each case must be determined upon its own merits. 

Judge Zulick stated that “appellate courts have found that sidewalk imperfections greater in depth and overall size than at issue here were insufficient to impose liability as a matter of law.”   citing Davis, Bosack v. Pittsburgh Railways Co., 189 A.2d 877 (Pa. 1963) [and other cases].  

In concluding his Opinion and granting summary judgment in favor of the defense, the court noted that “A pedestrian should not expect a perfectly level walking surface on a sidewalk in the Poconos.”  

This case has been appealed up to the Superior Court.

Anyone desiring a copy of Judge Zulick's Opinion in the case of Yohey v. Crupi may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.



Source: "Case Digests," Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Nov. 27, 2012).

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