As Chicago winter weather fast approaches, it is relevant to review some of the issues surrounding the seemingly-straightforward but often-confusing personal injury laws regarding property owners’ responsibility for removal of snow/ice from property. This area of law is often called premises liability. Note that it is always important to check on city, local, and regional laws, ordinances, and regulations; the following is only general information and does not constitute legal advice.
Persons can be sued for negligence, under certain circumstances, with respect to the “unnatural accumulation” of water and/or ice on their premises. Note “unnatural” accumulation. Generally speaking, Illinois law does not place a duty on the owner of a property to clean up or warn of existing hazards resulting from a “natural” accumulation – that is, placed there by nature – of water, ice, or snow.
However, as noted, negligence can be found in cases of “unnatural accumulation.” Of course, in a sense, all accumulations of precipitation are “natural.” A “natural” accumulation becomes “unnatural” with the intervention of an individual. If, for example, a property owner removes the naturally accumulated – where it naturally fell – snow to an adjacent area. This new pile of snow is an “unnatural” accumulation. The property owner, in creating this accumulation, has assumed a duty for the snow from this point on. If the snow subsequently melts, causing runoff onto a sidewalk or other area which then becomes wet, slippery, and hazardous, the property owner is liable for any accident – a Chicago slip and fall accident, for example – that may occur in this hazardous area.
Under these circumstances, the wet/icy sidewalk (as well as the partially-melted pile of snow) could be considered an “unnatural accumulation.” Once an individual has acted to affect the natural accumulation, he/she assumes a duty for the ice/snow/water from that point on. Keep in mind that this definition means that any water accumulating in an area from downspouts from a building or runoff from roofing onto an area where the public may come in contact or might be walking and could be injured would be considered an “unnatural accumulation” for which the property owner could be found liable.
Obviously, because of this possibility of legal negligence, it is important when removing snow from sidewalks, parking lots, and other areas that it be removed in such a way and to such an area that it will not cause a hazard, either immediately or as it melts. As to any “natural accumulation” of ice, snow or water, there is no duty to remove it under most circumstances, legally speaking, though neighborly/community duty is another, more personal matter.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or death as a result of improperly managed property, call VanDerGinst Law at 1-866-843-7367 or click here for a FREE online case evaluation. The initial consultation is free of charge. If we agree to handle your injury case, we will work on a contingency fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if, and when, there is a money recovery for you. In many cases a lawsuit must be filed before an applicable expiration date, known as a statute of limitations. So please call right away to ensure that you do not waive your right to possible compensation.