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Beware of Ice, Natural or Unnatural

On Behalf of | Nov 24, 2021 | Firm News |

While I’ve traditionally posted about this topic around the time of the first substantial snowfall (acknowledging that we occasionally get flurries around Halloween, closer to the end of summer than the beginning of winter), the unseasonably cold weather these past few days has brought to mind an important topic: slips and falls associated with snow and ice.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, it has long been the case in Illinois that property-owners in Illinois are generally not liable for injuries resulting from “natural” accumulation of snow and ice. Even worse, there is no general legal duty (that is without some sort of maintenance contract or other arrangement) for a landowner actually clean up this natural accumulation, even when it could result in injury. As the Illinois said as recently as 2010, “a landowner or possessor of real property has no duty to remove natural accumulations of ice, snow, or water from its property.” Krywin v. Chicago Transit Auth., 238 Ill. 2d 215, 227, 938 N.E.2d 440, 447 (2010). If someone is injured on an otherwise normal walkway because they slipped on some freshly fallen snow, establishing liability can become extremely complicated. The courts really have shifted the liability to the pedestrians at risk for injury.

Luckily, the manner in which courts interpret “unnatural accumulation” is fairly broad. The classic example is snow that has been shoveled into a large pile, which then melts and refreezes, causing ice to present a hazard in a manner that it would not have naturally been the case. The actual layout of a property can also result in a sort of passive unnatural accumulation. If there is design flaw in a building such that water from a downspout runs across a walkway and freezes, someone who is injured on that ice may have a valid claim against the property owner for being negligent in the construction of their . Even neglecting to repair flaws in a parking lot which then result in unusual snow and ice distributions and hazards can be deemed to be unnatural accumulation.

In addition, the protection of the Natural Accumulation doctrine only apply to the actual owners of the property-they don’t necessarily provide protections to contracted snow removal services who have been negligent in their duties. “If you promise to perform a service that is intended for the safety of third parties, and you don’t perform that service with reasonable care, you are liable to that third party for any resulting injuries he or she suffered.” Mickens v. CPS Chicago Parking, LLC, 2019 IL App (1st) 180156, ¶ 76, 131 N.E.3d 1158, 1172 (1st Cir. 2019).

Homeowners, however, have even more protections from liability, because the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act actually exempts them from liability even if their good-faith (but negligent) efforts to clean up the snow result in the conditions which lead to injury. The purported reasoning behind this is that the legislature wanted people to at least try to keep their homes cleared of snow and ice. Unfortunately, though, it can also result in situations where people are gravely injured without clear remedy.

The complex nature of these cases makes it even more important that you are assisted by qualified legal counsel. For inquiries related to any type of personal injury, please call our office toll free at 1-888-488-4LAW or via email at [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you.

Attorney Travis Dunn