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Many people are often confused about what makes a snow and ice fall compensable. To the surprise of many, merely falling on snow or ice in front of a store or house is not enough. As discussed in this post, in order to have a case, the snow or ice that caused someone to fall must be an unnatural accumulation. Put another way, falling on snow or ice that formed without the aid or intervention of man is insufficient to establish a claim under Illinois law. See Graham v. City of Chicago, 346 Ill. 638, 641 (1931).
To answer this question, we must first look at the natural accumulation rule. So what is a natural accumulation? A natural accumulation is snow, rain, or ice that formed naturally because of the weather. Snow that accumulates on a sidewalk that has not been shoveled is a natural accumulation. Many potential clients emphasize that the person or company who owns the house or store failed to shovel; however, there is no prevailing theory of liability for failing to shovel.
Simply put: there is not an established duty in Illinois to shovel the public sidewalk or walkway in front of one’s home or business. This is the case even if there is a municipal or city code requiring property owners to shovel snow on their land. See Thompson v. Tormike, Inc., 127 Ill.App.3d 674, 469 N.E.2d 453 (1st Dist. 1984). There is no duty of a property owner to remove natural accumulations of snow, ice or water. Id.
An important extension of the natural accumulation rule must also be noted: water or snow that is tracked into a store on customers’ shoes is considered a natural accumulation and is not compensable. See Swartz v. Sears Roebuck Co.¸264 Ill. App. 3d 254, 265 (1st Dist. 1993). The most common example of this is when the entrance and exits of stores become saturated with water and snow from heavy foot traffic. Therefore, this means that a person who slips and falls in a grocery store entrance due to tracked-in rain likely does not have a compensable claim. Id.
To determine if you have a case, you’ll need to understand if you slipped and fell because of unnatural accumulation of snow or ice. So what exactly is an unnatural accumulation? An unnatural accumulation is one that is created in some part by the property owner’s negligence. For example, if a drainpipe runs from a property owner’s roof and drains near a sidewalk, path, or other walkway, and that runoff freezes into an ice sheet – then it is unnatural accumulation. As this example illustrates, the owner of the property or someone working for them needs to take some action that helps create the dangerous snow or ice condition that causes your injury. There must be some interference or direction from the property owner which created the condition which caused the plaintiff to fall.
While a clearly unnatural accumulation is the gold standard for snow and ice fall cases, there are several exceptions to the rule. First, if a property owner takes steps to mitigate the dangers of a natural accumulation, but does so negligently, he or she may be held liable. For example, if a property owner shovels snow into large piles in such a way that when the snow melts, the water pools and freezes on clearly delineated walkways, there is an argument that the owner negligently created a dangerous condition for those lawfully on the property. Similarly, many businesses place large matts or rugs on the floors of entrances during storms to absorb some of the tracked in water. If these matts become slippery unto themselves, there is an argument that the store created a dangerous condition in attempting to address the natural accumulation and may be found negligent.
A recent clarification in Illinois jurisprudence has opened-up snow and ice removal companies to liability regarding natural accumulations that they fail to remove. See Schoondyke v. Heil, Heil, Smart & Golee, Inc., 89 Ill.App.3d 640 (1st.Dist. 1980). Let us say that it snows three inches in Chicago and a pedestrian visiting a condominium falls on this naturally accumulated snow. While that pedestrian would not have a claim against the condominium due to the natural accumulation rule, she may have a claim against the snow removal company if the contract was violated. Many snow and ice removal contracts state that the company will only remove the snow or ice if it is more than one inch. Now, in our example, if there were three inches of accumulation, but the snow and ice company failed to come out and remove the three inch accumulation, they may have violated the duty established in the contract and may be subject to a lawsuit from the injured party.
If you or your loved one has been injured in a slip and fall accident, make sure to call experienced slip and fall injury attorneys, The Kryder Law Group, LLC., for your free consultation. We’re ready to discuss your case to determine if unnatural accumulation or an exception to the natural accumulation rule applies.