Winter is officially upon us in Chicago, and with it has come the start of freezing temperatures, snow, and dangerous driving conditions. With the winter weather inevitably comes snow- and ice-covered sidewalks. The question then becomes: what happens if I slip and fall due to snow and ice accumulation on another person’s property? Liability can be hard to prove in these situations in Chicago due to the law in Illinois regarding slipping and falling on snow or ice disfavoring the accident victim. Although a difficult battle to win, an accident victim may still be able to prove the property owner is liable for the injuries caused.
In an effort to encourage residential owners to clear snow and ice from residential properties, the General Assembly, in 1979, passed the Snow and Ice Removal Act (the Act). 745 ILCS 75/1, 2. The Act provides that owners and others residing in residential units be encouraged to clean the sidewalks abutting their residences of snow and ice. The Act finds it unreasonable to find property owners liable for damages due to their efforts in the removal of snow or ice from such sidewalks, except for acts which amount to clear wrongdoing (willful or wanton). Id. In Illinois, the courts have followed the Act’s intention and has held that a property owner has no duty to remove naturally occurring snow and ice from a property. Krywin v Chicago Transit Authority, 238 Ill.2d 215, 227 (2010).
Although there is immunity for residential owners who attempt to clear snow and ice from their properties, these property owners may still be liable. To determine liability for slips and falls on snow and ice, Illinois follows what is known as the unnatural accumulation of snow and ice rule, meaning that the ice or snow that made you fall must be an unnatural accumulation of ice or snow. Graham v. City of Chicago, 346 Ill. 638, 641 (1931). If it is a natural accumulation of ice or snow, there is no liability. The dividing line between what is considered a natural accumulation of snow and ice and what is considered an unnatural accumulation of snow ice is often times very confusing.
In Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Management Services, Inc., the Illinois Supreme Court restated Illinois' historical rule that under the common law, a landowner owes no duty to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice. 2016 IL 120394 (December 1, 2016). The Court held that a residential property owner has immunity for undertaking the removal of naturally accumulated snow or ice even if the removal causes an unnatural accumulation of snow or ice that ultimately leads to injury. Id. However, landowners do owe a duty of reasonable care to prevent unnatural accumulations of ice and snow on their premises where they have actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. Graham v. City of Chicago, 346 Ill.638, 641 (1931). As such, a land owner may be liable where snow or ice "accumulated by artificial or unnatural causes, or by an owner's use of the area concerned thereby creating the dangerous condition, and where it has been there long enough for the responsible party to have notice and knowledge of the condition." Fitzsimmons v. National Tea Co., 29 Ill.App.2d 306, 318 (1961).
Generally speaking, a property owner is not insulated from liability for ice that forms on a sidewalk or walkway in an unnatural way due to an otherwise defective condition of the property. McLean v. Rockford Country Club, 352 Ill.App.3d 229, 238 (2nd Dist. 2004). Furthermore, the property owner is not insulated from liability where an owner is negligent in failing to make reasonable efforts to maintain the property to eliminate the danger created after reasonable notice of the defective condition. Id. Even though no duty exists, businesses often undertake efforts to remediate snowy and icy conditions on their properties because such conditions represent a hazard to patrons and employees alike. Where a business opts to remediate, it can be held liable if it performs its removal efforts negligently. Nowak v. Coghill, 296 Ill. App. 3d 886, 893 (2d Dist. 1998). Where a business owners opts to remove snow, they still owe no duty with respect to any natural accumulations of snow or ice that lie beneath the removed snow. Koziol v. Hayden, 309 Ill. App. 3d 472, 476 (4th Dist. 1999). Liability may also exist where a business owner either aggravates a natural condition, or engages in conduct that creates a new, unnatural or artificial condition. Hornacek v. 5th Avenue Prop. Mgmt., 2011 IL App (1st) 103502 ¶¶ 31–32 (Sept. 30, 2011).
Winter is here and with it comes the inevitable injuries due to snow and ice. Cases involving falls on ice or snow require a thorough analysis of the facts before it can be determined whether there is liability for the fall on ice or snow. If you have slipped and fallen on snow or ice this winter and been injured, contact the skilled and experienced attorneys at Sherwood Law Group at 312-627-1650 for a free consultation and case review.