Winter in Illinois can be long and hard, and the frequent presence of snow can also make it more dangerous than it needs to be. The presence of snow and ice often leads people to slip and fall, sometimes sustaining serious injury which may or may not require surgery. Something as simple as a slippery floor, a loose sidewalk heating grate or a poorly repaired step can mean temporary or permanent disability, a traumatic head injury, or even damage to the spinal cord. However, not all injured people are able to recover for their injuries. The liability for slip and falls due to ice in Illinois may not be what you think it is.
To determine liability for slips and falls on snow and ice, Illinois follows the unnatural accumulation of snow and ice rule. In order for there to be liability for a fall on snow or ice, the snow or ice that made you fall must be an unnatural accumulation of snow or ice. This means that if you fall on snow or ice in front of a storefront that has failed to remove the snow or ice, you may not be able to recover. Failure to remove the natural accumulation of snow or ice is not a basis for a negligence claim. If it is a natural accumulation of snow or ice, 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 many times a blurry one, even for experienced Illinois personal injury lawyers who have handled many cases involving slips and falls on snow and ice.
Ice or snow is “naturally accumulated” when it is the result of natural weather conditions. Return to that storefront – if the snow you slip on there has built up overnight because of a storm, it is naturally accumulated. When you slip, the store owner will not be liable for your injuries. But, if an employee of the store or the owner pushes snow onto your path to clear a way to the store’s front door, rather than clearing the snow in a more appropriate way, then the accumulation would be man-made, and liability may exist. It is important to note that the law still considers ice which has been formed by snow being tamped down by pedestrian or vehicular traffic to be a natural accumulation of snow and ice. It also considers puddles of water inside of buildings resulting from pedestrians tracking in snow that melted to be a natural accumulation of snow.
Of course, there are some exceptions to the natural accumulation of snow and ice rule. One important exception is if there is a provision in a lease for property where the management company or landlord agrees to remove snow and ice. In every slip-and-fall case, the facts surrounding that case determine whether an injured person can recover for a slip and fall. For instance, if our storefront is covered with ice because of a defect in the property – such as a downspout that dumps water onto the sidewalk where it freezes – that is not a natural accumulation of snow or ice. The store owner may be liable.
While our storefront examples seem fairly simple, slip and fall cases are not. It is for that reason that if you are injured, you may wish to speak to an attorney to determine if you have a case and if you can recover your damages.