Imagine you’re walking on the city sidewalk, admiring the fresh fallen snow, when all of sudden you slip and fall, severely injuring yourself. What happens next? In the state of Illinois, cities and municipalities are typically protected from lawsuits. In order for a victim to bring a case against the city or municipality, they must prove that the government acted intentionally or demonstrated a conscious neglect for the safety of civilians. In other words, the victim must prove willful and wanton conduct.
It is no mistake to say that city and suburban sidewalks in Illinois are severely run down. Some sidewalks may contain small cracks while others are completely unlevel. What seems like a minor appearance defect can actually create a serious safety hazard to anyone utilizing them. For example, a small crack on the sidewalk can pose a severe threat to a jogger enjoying their morning run, or an elderly woman enjoying her leisure stroll. This risk is magnified at night when the victim is unable to see and avoid the defect.
According to the De Minimus rule, cities and municipalities are typically not responsible for cracks or level changes on sidewalks if they are less than two (2) inches. However, if there are larger cracks or level changes, the city and/or municipality can be held liable for failing to inspect and repair the hazard.
Government vs. Private Property Owner
A fall on ice is fairly common, especially in the brutal Chicago winters. In order for the victim of a slip-and-fall accident to bring a successful claim against their injuries, they must find out who is liable. In other words, they must figure out who owns the sidewalk. A case for a privately-owned sidewalk will be much different than a case for a government-owned sidewalk. For the latter, the standards of proof are much higher. The victim must also know the statute of limitations. In Illinois, a victim has two (2) years from the date of their injury to file a lawsuit. If the case is against the government, the statute of limitations is decreased to one (1) year. In the case the statute of limitations expires, the victim is usually barred from bringing the lawsuit and cannot receive just compensation for their sustained injuries. Thus, it is important for them to act quickly and protect their rights.
Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act
Illinois law protects property owners and managers from slip and fall accidents that ensue from a natural buildup of ice and snow. The Snow and Ice Removal Act states that property owners or managers are not required to remove ice and snow from sidewalks. The act also provides immunity to the property owners who do minimal shoveling but do not remove all of the accumulation of ice and snow.
So what should a victim do when they fall and injure themselves are a result of the snow and ice that accumulated on the sidewalk?
It is important to call an experienced lawyer who fully understands the law because there are certain exceptions to the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act. Even with the Act, property owners are required to maintain a safe premise protect visitors from any known harm. Failure to comply with this may be considered negligence and the property owner may be liable for injuries that occur as a result. An example where a victim could seek compensation against the property owner for their injuries would occur when their injury resulted from an “unnatural accumulation” of snow or ice. In such a case, the property owner can be liable for creating a dangerous or hazardous condition or maintaining the premises in a negligent manner.
Recent Illinois court rulings also provided immunity to the victim in cases where their injury occurred in a parking lot and not on a sidewalk. In Hornacek v. 5th Avenue Property Management, No. 1-10-3502, the plaintiff alleged that she was walking to her vehicle when the slipped and fell on the snow and ice that had accumulated in the parking lot. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants were liable for her injuries because they failed to maintain a safe premise and allowed an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice to happen. This unnatural accumulation was the cause of her fall and sustained injuries. The Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, summarized the Illinois law regarding landowner’s duty during winter months by stating:
“A defendant cannot be held liable for injuries sustained unless a plaintiff shows that the defendant aggravated a natural condition or that the origin of the accumulation of ice, snow, or water was unnatural…
If the landowner or a hired contractor creates an unnatural accumulation, then liability may attach as a result of failing to use ordinary care…
The fact that snow has been cleared and that there are piles of snow present suggests that the snow piles are an unnatural accumulation…
It is the duty of the landowner to provide a reasonably safe means of ingress and egress…A party under contract with a landowner to remove snow or ice also bears a duty of reasonable care for the customers on the property…”
The court concluded that where a defendant created the hazardous condition through its own negligence, a plaintiff does not need to show constructive or actual notice of the harm. Therefore, the plaintiff in this case was able to successfully recover for her injuries that she sustained as result of her slip and fall accident.
What You May Recover
If you injure yourself in a slip and fall accident, you may be able to recover the cost of your medical treatment. Compensation for any lost wages may also be recovered if you can demonstrate that your injury caused you to either miss work or work reduced hours. Finally, you may be able to recover for the pain and suffering associated with the injury, plus any negative impact this injury had on your regular activities.
In every slip and fall accident, the facts need to be closely scrutinized. If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident, it is crucial you immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney, especially with the shortened statute of limitations. Every day counts. The personal injury lawyers at Sherwood Law Group have experience handling such complex cases and can help you determine if you have a premise liability case. For a free evaluation of your trip and fall case, contact Sherwood Law Group at 312.627.1650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.