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Danny M. Alexander v. City of Meadville and Patron's Mutual Fire Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania

December 7, 2012

DANNY M. ALEXANDER, APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF MEADVILLE AND PATRON'S MUTUAL FIRE ASSOCIATION OF NORTHWESTERN PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order entered March 19, 2012, in the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County, Civil Division, at No(s): A.D. 2010-228

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Allen, J.

J-S63040-12

BEFORE: STEVENS, P.J., MUSMANNO, and ALLEN, JJ.

OPINION BY ALLEN, J.

Danny M. Alexander ("Appellant") appeals from the trial court's granting of summary judgment in favor of Patron's Mutual Fire Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania ("Patron's Mutual"), and the City of Meadville ("City"). We affirm.

The trial court summarized the facts of this case as follows:

This action arises out of a slip-and-fall accident suffered by [Appellant], at the corner of Chestnut and Market streets in Meadville on February 10, 2008. As a result of this accident, [Appellant] sustained an injury to his right leg and sued [Patron's Mutual] and the [City].

On the night of February 9, 2008, [Appellant] and a friend drove from Meadville to Cambridge Springs to relax at a bar called the Iron Horse Inn. ([Appellant's] Deposition at pp. 30).

While [Appellant] and his friend were in Cambridge Springs, it began to snow and accumulated approximately one inch by the time the two left the Iron Horse Inn. Snow continued to fall steadily as [Appellant] and his friend drove back to Meadville. Once in Meadville, [Appellant's] friend dropped [Appellant] off at his mother's residence on Chestnut Street around midnight. ([Appellant's] Deposition at pp. 31-34). At this time, [Appellant] walked to the Market Street Scene, a bar located on Market Street in downtown Meadville, where he drank some beer and smoked some cigarettes. [Appellant] left the Market Street Scene around 1:20am and began walking home. As he descended the sidewalk ramp located at the corner of Chestnut and Market streets, [Appellant] slipped and fell on a smooth patch of ice covered by approximately one to two inches of snow in the dip of the ramp. ([Appellant's] Deposition at pp. 44-46, 61-62).

A City ordinance requires property owners within the City to maintain their sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition, which includes keeping them clear of snow and ice accumulations. City of Meadville Ord. 2903 § 745.10 (1976). Pursuant to this ordinance, the City employed Nicholas J. Cherapovich as a Property Maintenance Inspector. Mr. Cherapovich's duties as the City's maintenance inspector included inspecting sidewalks within Meadville to ensure that the sidewalks were navigable and generally free of dangerous snowy and icy conditions in the winter. Mr. Cherapovich testified that Patron's Mutual consistently maintained its portion of the sidewalk and generally kept it free from snow and ice accumulations. (Mr. Cherapovich's Deposition at pp. 14-20). Further testimony of Maria Price, a Patron's Mutual employee[,] confirms that Patron's Mutual regularly inspected and shoveled and salted the portion of the sidewalk for which it was responsible during business hours, which included the ramp on which [Appellant] fell. (Ms. Price's Deposition at pp. 16-17; 26-30).

Of further relevance is the fact that the City retrofitted certain sidewalk ramps in Meadville pursuant to a resolution from a previous lawsuit. The sidewalks that were retrofitted were installed with ramps that tapered from the street corner to the street upon which dimpled mats were affixed to alert pedestrians of the change from sidewalk to street. The street corner where this accident occurred was retrofitted with such a ramp in compliance with the resolution. [Appellant] claims that the design and construction of this sidewalk ramp created a hazardous accumulation of snow and ice which led to his accident.

[Appellant] alleges that Patron's Mutual was negligent in failing to inspect and remedy the icy condition on the sidewalk ramp and in failing to remove the snow and ice accumulation on the ramp. Similarly, [Appellant] alleges that the City was negligent in permitting a defective ramp to be constructed that had a tendency to accumulate ice, in failing to prevent icy accumulations on the sidewalk, and in failing to warn pedestrians of the icy condition of the sidewalk. Both [Patron's Mutual and City] filed Motions for Summary Judgment.

Trial Court Opinion, 3/22/12, at 1-3.

The trial court granted summary judgment to Patron's Mutual and the City on March 16, 2012, by an order which was subsequently amended on March 22, 2012, to correct the name of Patron's Mutual's counsel. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal. Both Appellant and the trial court have complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

Appellant presents the following issues for our review:

1. Whether the [c]court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of [Patron's Mutual].

2. Whether the [c]court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the [City].

Appellant's Brief at 2.

In reviewing Appellant's challenge to the trial court's granting of summary judgment, we recognize:

Our scope of review...[of summary judgment orders]...is plenary. We apply the same standard as the trial court, reviewing all the evidence of record to determine whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact. We view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party. Only where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and it is clear that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law will summary judgment be entered.

Motions for summary judgment necessarily and directly implicate the plaintiff's proof of the elements of his cause of action. Summary judgment is proper if, after the completion of discovery relevant to the motion, including the production of expert reports, an adverse party who will bear the burden of proof at trial has failed to produce evidence of facts essential to the cause of action or defense which in a jury trial would require the issues to be submitted to a jury. Thus a record that supports summary judgment will either (1) show the material facts are undisputed or (2) contain insufficient evidence of facts to make out a prima facie cause of action or defense and, therefore, there is no issue to be submitted to the jury. Upon appellate review we are not bound by the trial court's conclusions of law, but may reach our own conclusions. The appellate Court may disturb the trial court's order only upon an error of law or an abuse of discretion.

Chris Falcone, Inc. v. Ins. Co. of the State, 907 A.2d 631, 635 (Pa. Super. 2006) (citation omitted). Here, reviewing the record in the light most favorable to Appellant, we affirm the trial court's determination that Patron's ...


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