On May 26, 2017, Gordon & Rees partner Sara Anderson Frey of Philadelphia obtained summary judgment on behalf of her client, an airport authority, in a case pending for the past five years in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Pennsylvania.
The plaintiff, a ramp/gate agent for an airline at the airport, slipped and fell on ice on the ramp, sustaining leg fractures requiring multiple surgeries. At the time of the incident, the plaintiff was on the ramp preparing a plane, parked at the gate since the evening before, for its first departure of the day. Witness testimony confirmed icy patches in the ramp area. Weather reports showed temperatures in the twenties and an accumulation of three inches of snow/ice/hail.
Frey moved for summary judgment on grounds the airport authority, as a municipality, was immune from liability under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, which provides immunity to local agencies unless the plaintiff can show damages would be recoverable under common law but for immunity and that one of eight narrowly construed exceptions applied. Frey argued Pennsylvania’s hills and ridges doctrine precluded liability under common law and that the real estate exception, the only potentially applicable exception, did not apply because the airport authority was not in possession of the property at the time of the incident.
The trial court agreed, adopting all of Frey’s arguments. The court held that there was no genuine issue of material fact that generally slippery conditions existed that the time and that the ice had not been allowed to unreasonably accumulate in ridges or elevations, thereby invoking protection under the hills and ridges doctrine. The court further found the airport was not in possession of the property at the time of the fall because the lease agreement between the airline and the airport authority unambiguously provided the airline had the responsibility to remove snow and ice when a plane is parked at the gate. As such, the trial court held the airport authority was immune from liability under the Tort Claims Act.