Illinois Appellate Court Decision Clarifies Law on Contractual Relationships and Snow Removal
With wintertime fast approaching, Chicagoans are preparing to deal with winter chores like digging out cars and clearing the sidewalks of ice and snow. But who is considered at fault if you suffer from a common Chicago wintertime accident like a slip and fall on snow and ice caused by improper snow removal by a contractor? An Illinois Appellate court decision clarifies the law on contractual relationships and snow removal. For people who were injured when they slipped or fell due to snow and ice on property, an important element of the case that must be proved is that condition (the snow, water, or ice) must be an unnatural accumulation. If the condition was caused through natural means, there will be no recovery as a matter of law.
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The Court Decisions Explained
Landowners and managers typically have no duty at common law to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice from their land. However, if the accumulation is unnatural, the law requires a “duty of reasonable care.” The Illinois Supreme Court defined accumulation as unnatural if it “accumulated by artificial causes or in an unnatural way or by defendant’s own use of the area concerned and creation of the condition.” Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Management Services, 2016 IL 120394, paragraph 19.
This summer, the First District Appellate Court of Illinois, located in downtown Chicago, published an opinion that will affect similar cases in the future. In Jaukita Mickens v. CPS Chicago Parking, LLC, et al. (2019 IL App. 1st. 180156), the Plaintiff sustained injuries when she fell on the pedestrian ramp at a Metra station. She slipped on a sheet of ice that was approximately an inch thick. She suffered injuries to her ankle which necessitated emergency surgery.
The Plaintiff explained that the ramp had what appeared to be wet slush on the ground. The lump that caused Plaintiff to fall was ice. At the time, Metra had a snow and ice removal services performed through a sub-contractor that treated the area where Plaintiff fell. The sub-contractor plowed and salted the Metra station several days before the morning Plaintiff fell.
The Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that the ice that caused Plaintiff’s injuries was natural, and therefore, as a matter of law, the Defendants were not responsible for Plaintiff’s injuries. Finding there was no question of fact, the trial court granted the Defendant’s judgment as a matter of law finding that the Plaintiff fell on a natural accumulation of snow and ice. The Illinois Appellate Court in the First Judicial District reversed the trial court’s decision and found that there was a question of fact presented in the testimony and evidence. Most importantly, the Appellate Court held that that property managers and snow removal contractors could be held liable for even natural accumulations of snow and ice. The Appellate Court rested its holding on the contractual relationship between the property owner and its contractors. Specifically in this case, Metra had contracted the obligation to remove snow and ice to a contractor and there is a dispute as to whether or not the contractor satisfied its contractual duties.
Hazards from Snow Removal
If the condition is caused by snow removal efforts, Illinois Courts will consider it to be an unnatural accumulation. Illinois Courts will also consider mounds of shoveled snow melting and re-freezing as sheets of ice to be unnatural conditions where defendants may be held liable for injuries. The Appellate Court in Mickens explained that it views the evidence in the record in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. The Appellate Court reasoned that there was evidence that the sub-contractor hired to perform snow and ice removal services plowed the snow into piles on the ramp where Plaintiff fell. It further reasoned that there was evidence in the record that the temperatures fluctuated, creating a situation that “could easily translate to the very scenario [Plaintiff] posits – that snow piles melted, causing water runoff that refroze on the ramp.”
The Appellate Court further explained that a duty can be “voluntarily assumed” by the creation of a contract. The Court applied Section 324A of the Second Restatement of Torts, adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court and explained that the Defendants may be liable if there was a contractual promise to perform snow removal services for the protection of the customers, and a customer was injured as a result to perform the snow removal service with reasonable care. The customer must have relied on the promise to remove the snow or ice. The Court further explained that snow removal contractors may be liable for injuries sustained due to natural accumulation because all of the rationale that applies to landowners does not apply to the contractors. They essentially promised to remove the snow; it is a part of their work day and they are paid to remove the snow. As a result, natural accumulation defense may not apply to contractors.
What to do if you are injured in a wintertime accident?
If you were injured in a common Chicago wintertime accident like a slip and fall on someone’s property, do not hesitate to reach out to us at the Kryder Law Group by phone at 312-223-1700, by email at email@example.com, or through the interactive chat client on our website for a free and confidential consultation. The facts that are specific and unique to your situation will determine whether you are entitled to compensation under the law and whether you can recover monetary damages. It is important to contact our office soon because under Illinois law, there is a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit against the negligent party. We know injuries are incredibly stressful, so please read the positive Google reviews and client testimonials and see how we’ve helped countless others handle similar injuries.