At this time of year we are frequently contacted by folks who have had the misfortune to have fallen on ice or snow and suffered injury. These falls can occur on steps, sidewalks, in parking lots or driveways, or in other public areas. Sometimes the property owner, in a residential property context, may have either attempted to remove the snow or ice themselves, or hired a contractor, but patches of slick areas are left. The common misperception is that the owner or snow removal contractor is responsible if they either did not remove the snow or ice, or did so in a sloppy manner, failing to get all of it; or salted inefficiently, leaving icy areas behind. This is, unfortunately, not the law in Illinois.
Illinois follows what is known as the “natural accumulation rule”, which says, basically, that the property owner is not responsible for ice that forms from rain, sleet or snow falling, melting or pooling and then icing over. This applies to both commercial and residential properties.
Further, the Illinois legislature has afforded residential property owners and the snow removal contractors who service their drives, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks, with immunity if they attempt to remove snow or ice but fail to do so completely or properly. 745 ILCS 75/2 (the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act) provides:
Any owner, lessor, occupant or other person in charge of any residential property, or any agent of or other person engaged by any such party, who removes or attempts to remove snow or ice from sidewalks abutting the property shall not be liable for any personal injuries allegedly caused by the snowy or icy condition of the sidewalk resulting from his or her acts or omissions unless the alleged misconduct was willful or wanton.
What the effect of this statutory provision is in a fall on ice or snow on residential property or abutting such property, is that the owner or the contractor who did the snow removal may not be held liable in court unless the injured party can establish that the conduct of the owner/contractor in attempting to remove the snow or ice was almost intentional in putting harm in the way of those who could expect to pass on the areas where the snow removal operations took place. The law refers to this as “actual or deliberate intern to harm” or “utter indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of” those who might be expected to use the walkway. Needless to say, this can be a difficult standard to overcome.
Usually the courts will find a way around these hurdles only where the injured party can prove that the property owner somehow caused the ice to form, such as by directing gutter spouts onto walkways, or otherwise diverting rain, sleet or melting snow in such a way that it should have been expected to pool and cause harm when it hardened into ice in a walkway. If you or a family member or loved one is injured as a result of a fall on ice, and it appears that the ice formed as a result of something the property owner did to cause water to pool into ice, rather that as a result of natural thawing and freezing, take pictures of the area and the instrumentalities that may have caused the ice to form (gutters with downspouts pointed into walkways for instance) in order to document the condition, then consult with a knowledgeable attorney to determine whether there may be a viable claim. As always, it is not in your best interests to speak with an insurance representative of the property owner before you speak with an attorney. Be safe out there. Spring is coming. Hopefully.