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Homeowner Must Pay $900K in FedEx Driver Slip-And-Fall Lawsuit

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A Pennsylvania state appellate panel ruled that a homeowner can’t invoke the state’s “hills and ridges” doctrine shielding property owners from damages, specifically pertaining to an incident involving a FedEx driver’s slip-and-fall.

The three-judge Superior Court panel upheld the Northampton County jury’s decision confirming that the homeowner, Eileen Meitzner, could be held liable for injuries sustained by the FedEx delivery driver, Abigail Figueroa, after she slipped and fell on a sheet of ice along the sidewalk near the entrance to Meitzner’s house. The ice was reportedly concealed by an accumulation of snow.

The jury initially awarded Figueroa $1.5 million in damages. However, the jury also determined that the FedEx driver was actually 40% at fault for the slip-and-fall, and the trial judge later reduced the final judgment to $900,000.

Meitzner argued on appeal that Pennsylvania’s “hills and ridges” doctrine, which states that an injured person must allege there were dangerous conditions due to ridges or elevations of ice and snow that were allowed to remain for an unreasonable period of time, should have been allowed as part of her defense. Meitzner cited evidence demonstrating slippery conditions at the time of the accident near her home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which she claimed should have warranted her request to invoke the hills and ridges doctrine.

The panel disagreed with Meitzner, however, determining that given Figueroa’s testimony declaring that prior to the incident she had delivered several packages to other area homes along her route without slipping, whether or not such conditions prevailed in the area was in fact debatable.

Moreover, Judge Roscioli provided additional evidence demonstrating that the weather was above freezing at the time of the accident and no snow was present on Meitzner’s driveway at the time of Figueroa’s fall. Furthermore, the judge put forth evidence that Figueroa had been wearing sneakers and managed to successfully deliver 10 to 15 packages prior to sustaining the injury.

In a statement the Superior Court panel declared, “The testimony of Ms. Figueroa regarding the non-slippery condition of Ms. Meitzner’s driveway and the other properties she visited that morning created a factual question as to the general slipperiness of Bethlehem on the date and time when Ms. Figueroa fell.” The panel added that Meitzner “presumes ‘it was undisputed that general slippery conditions prevailed at the time of [Ms. Figueroa’s] slip and fall.’ Ms. Figueroa’s testimony suggests otherwise.”

Stephen Zakos, the attorney representing Ms. Figueroa, indicated he was pleased with the decision. “I was gratified but not surprised that the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the verdict of a Northampton County jury and the thoughtful posttrial opinion of Judge Roscioli,” he said. “My client appreciates the time and care that the court put into her case.”

Counsel for Ms. Meitzner indicated dissatisfaction with the decision, though no mention of an appeal was made at the time of the statement.