In Pennsylvania, courts have adopted a rule for determining a property owner’s liability for a snow or ice-related fall. It is referred to as the Hills and Ridges doctrine. It has three elements that must be proven to have a claim: (1) that the snow and ice had accumulated on the area of the fall in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians; (2) that the property owner knew about the condition or it existed for such a long period of time that he or she should have known about it; and (3) it was the dangerous accumulation that caused the fall. This means that there is usually no claim for falling as a result of freshly fallen snow or as a result of black ice, because it would place too much of a burden on property owners to anticipate and remove snow immediately. The owner only needs to act within a reasonable time that the snow has accumulated. The Hills and Ridges doctrine only protects owners from liability from natural causes. If snow or ice has accumulated in a defect in the sidewalk, for instance, or if ice forms as a result of leaky pipe, then owners are not protected and may be liable for injuries. Some municipal laws, including those of Philadelphia, have more specific codes regarding snow removal, including the amount of snow to be removed and the time period in which to do so.
New Jersey law distinguishes between residential and commercial property owners as well as state and municipal law with regard to snow removal. A residential property owner owes no duty to pedestrians under state law to remove snow, but there may be municipal laws which residential owners must follow. If a residential owner voluntarily removes snow and ice, however, the owner may be liable under state law if “through his or her negligence a new element of danger or hazard, other than one caused by natural forces, is added to the safe use of the sidewalk by a pedestrian.” Under municipal laws, however, a residential property owner may be liable for injuries that are a result of not removing snow and ice, so it is important to check local laws even though state law says that an owner need not remove snow. A commercial property owner does have a duty under state law to remove accumulations of snow and ice on the sidewalk.
In Delaware, a commercial property owner also has a duty to remove snow or ice that has accumulated or potentially face liability for injury. A landlord may also have a duty to remove snow or ice, especially in “common areas” of the premises that are heavily trafficked, such as paths between apartment buildings. Again, municipal laws may be more specific. Wilmington’s city code, for instance, mandates that snow or ice should be removed from any public street by an owner, a landlord, or tenant within twenty-four hours of the end of the storm and specifies the amount to be removed.