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City woman can amend slip-and-fall complaint

Roessing sued city over incident near post office

A Blair County judge has given an Altoona woman until mid-April to file an amended civil complaint in which she contends the city was negligent three years ago when it piled snow at the entrance to the post office in downtown Altoona.

On Feb. 8, 2018, the woman, Sherri Roessing, parked her car on 11th Avenue and fell while proceeding to the entrance of the Post Office, according to an opinion issued last week by Blair County Judge Jackie Atherton Bernard.

Roessing filed a lawsuit through Pittsburgh attorney Kevin R. Lomupo, but the city countered, asking the judge to reject the complaint because the city has immunity to civil actions under the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.

The city’s attorney, Christian D. Marquis, also of Pittsburgh, filed preliminary objections to the lawsuit.

In a 10-page opinion, Judge Bernard reviewed a variety of past decisions by Pennsylvania appeals courts and granted the city’s request, pointing out the lawsuit did not specify whether Roessing fell on the sidewalk or the street.

“One could infer that she slipped and fell as the result of ice and snow. It is pled that the city had plowed and/or shoveled the snow in a pile on the sidewalk entrance to the post office,” the judge stated.

In her opinion, she noted there are multiple exceptions (involving sidewalks and streets) to the immunity granted to a city, and she posed the question: “Is an accumulation of snow or ice a dangerous condition of the street or sidewalk?”

She cited a 1995 state Supreme Court case that found grease on a sidewalk was not a dangerous condition unless the condition stemmed from the design or construction of the sidewalk as opposed to being “on” the sidewalk.

Citing another case, Bernard explained that a Philadelphia resident fell due to “black ice” on a sidewalk.

The person claimed the snow and ice had been improperly removed from the street but failed to prove the black ice resulted from the “design, construction, deterioration or inherent defect of the street.”

“Based on the foregoing, we find the allegations of the complaint at issue are legally insufficient to plead a cause of action against the (city),” Bernard stated.

However, she granted Roessing an opportunity to amend her complaint.

The judge explained that the facts of the case, as related in the lawsuit, are minimal, and she stated with respect to an amended petition, “Facts may exist that could be added to the complaint to overcome the immunity provisions of the Act.”

Attorney Lomupo said Thursday that he will file an amended complaint.

He said he also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown because the case involved the post office — a federal facility — as well.

That case is before District Judge Kim R. Gibson and has proceeded to the point where it is ready for trial.

The pretrial statement in the federal case indicated that Roessing was let out of her sister’s car across the street from the post office because the snow was piled so high that the car door could not be opened on the Post Office side of the street.

She crossed the street, and when stepping from the road to the sidewalk, she slipped and fell, injuring her left hand and knees.

Post office employees took photos of the scene.

Roessing, 66, said she still feels the effects of the fall.

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