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On Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. Given that winter ends on March 20th, that seems like a pretty accurate prognostication, especially in light of our recent snowfall. If you don’t use a snow blower for snow removal, HKQ Law wants to offer you some tips for safe shoveling.

But before you get started, make sure you’re healthy enough to shovel snow. (If you’re not, ask for help, or hire someone.) A shovelful of wet snow can weigh as much as 25 pounds. So you could be moving hundreds of pounds of snow. A study found that between 1990 and 2006, 1,600 people died of heart attacks related to snow removal. The cold raises the risk of heart attack and other injuries because it constricts blood vessels. Know the signs of a heart attack.

  • If possible, stay ahead of the snow. Clear the snow when it accumulates a few inches. It makes for easier shoveling.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before shoveling.
  • Stretch before you start. That will help prevent injury and fatigue.
  • Dress in breathable layers. Stay warm, and beware of hypothermia.
  • Wear warm, waterproof boots that provide good grip.
  • Use an ergonomically-designed shovel. When you grip the shovel, make sure your hands are at least 12 inches apart. That increases your leverage and reduce the strain on your body. A plastic shovel blade will generally be lighter than a metal one, putting less strain on your spine. A smaller blade is better than a larger blade, as it can help avoid the risk of trying to pick up too much snow.
  • Push, don’t lift. By pushing the snow to the side rather than trying to lift it, you place less stress on your body.
  • If you must lift the snow, do it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it.
  • When shoveling snow near streets, pay attention to the traffic.
  • Take frequent breaks and staying hydrated by drinking water.
  • If you experience any pain while shoveling, STOP IMMEDIATELY. Keep your cell phone with you so you can make a call in event of an emergency.

Legal responsibility for slippery sidewalks

In Pennsylvania, an abutting property owner in primarily responsible for the removal of ice and snow on the sidewalk. (If you are a renter, check your lease to determine if it indicates that you are responsible for snow removal.)

It is not required that the sidewalk be free from snow and ice at all times. That “would require the impossible in view of the climatic conditions.” The property owner is given a reasonable amount to time to clear the sidewalk. (Check to see if your city or municipality has any ordinances covering specific snow removal requirements.)

Under Pennsylvania’s Hills and Ridges Doctrine, to recover compensation after a fall on snow or an ice-covered sidewalk, a plaintiff must show three things:

(1) the ice and snow accumulated in ridges or elevations that unreasonably obstructed travel and constituted a danger to pedestrians,

(2) the property owner knew through constructive or actual notice of the existence of the condition, and

(3) it was this dangerous accumulation of ice and snow that caused the plaintiff’s fall.

The Hills and Ridges Doctrine only applies to natural accumulations of snow and ice and there are certain exceptions to its application.

For instance, proof of hills and ridges is not required when a hazardous condition results from a localized patch of ice rather than generally slippery conditions prevailing in the community. Proof of hills and ridges is also not required where the icy condition results from a property owner's neglect, such as allowing water from a leaking gutter or pipe to freeze on a walkway.

Should you experience a fall, take photographs if possible to document the evidence. If you’ve suffered a serious injury as a result of a fall, call HKQ Law to discuss your case.

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn, PC is led by Attorney Joseph Quinn, one of the Top 100 trial lawyers in the nation. Seventeen lawyers strong, HKQ Law represents Personal Injury, Business Law and Personal Law clients in Lackawanna, Luzerne and surrounding northeastern PA counties for more than half a century. HKQ Law has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history, totaling over a half billion dollars on behalf of injured clients, and was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania, 2015.

The attorneys at HKQ Law have been honored as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Best Law Firms by US News and World Reports, and have received the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbel. Additional information can be found at or by calling (800) 760-1529.



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