As if a hurricane and tropical storm back to back in September weren’t enough, Mother Nature turned Halloween into her own trick with a serious blast of ice and snow in Bucks County and elsewhere. In Yardley, PA, rain, sleet, ice, snow, and then sleet again made for hazardous walking and driving conditions. My wife and I had to consider canceling our children’s Halloween party out of concern for the guests’ safety. So what should you think about when a winter storm disrupts your plans?
Homeowners and businesses are not responsible for accidents caused by naturally occurring weather conditions. Under Pennsylvania’s common law “hills and ridges” doctrine, liability can occur only if (1) the landowner altered a naturally occurring condition and made it more hazardous (for example, plowed or shoveled snow so it blocked a sidewalk) or (2) failed to take reasonable steps to remove the ice and snow accumulation within a reasonable time after bad weather ends. What is a reasonable time depends on many factors. It may not be the same for a commercial business as a private homeowner and it will depend on whether two inches of snow fell or ten. If you own a business and are responsible for the ice and snow removal, you will be held to a higher standard because higher traffic is expected for businesses.
What of my children’s Halloween Party? I couldn’t bear to break their little hearts so I called the parents of their guests and offered to come pick up their children in my 4-wheel drive SUV if they felt uncomfortable driving. No one took me up on my offer so the parents who came assumed the risk. (Only a lawyer thinks of this stuff, right? You may not want to make such an offer and simply play it safest by cancelling a party, but that is up to you.). I made sure I had a clear path up our driveway to the front door shoveled and salted before guests arrived. By advising your guests to make the choice to attend in bad weather themselves, you are effectively giving them a warning and an out. By making sure there is as clear a path as possible from their car to your door, you have done everything you can to provide for their safety. Fun doesn’t always have to be cancelled in bad weather and a common sense approach can protect you and keep you and your kids happy!
As always, please contact us if you have questions or need help.