Winter and fall go together. Not just in the above sentence, but in life too. In many parts of the country, winter means snow and ice, slippery sidewalks, floor aisles, parking lots, and roadways.
I get questions all the time from people who have fallen and gotten hurt wondering whether they have grounds for a personal injury claim or lawsuit.
The answer is, as with most lawyer answers, that it depends. These cases are very fact-specific, which I will discuss below.
Slip and Fall on Snow or Ice
The general rule in Illinois is that to recover for falls on snow or ice, there must be an “unnatural accumulation.” That means that the snow can’t just fall from the sky, remain untouched, cause you to fall, and still allow you to recover against the landowner or manager of the premises. Similarly, if a store parking lot is icy, you can’t necessarily recover if you fall.But there are some exceptions.
First of all, some municipalities require removal of snow or ice within a reasonable period of time after a snowfall. This may have an impact on your chances of recovering damages from the landowner, depending upon whether they made an effort to shovel and salt, whether that effort was performed reasonably, and other factors.
Let’s use a store parking lot as an example. It snowed a few days ago and the snow removal company the store hired piled all the snow in a high area of the lot, in a place where the sun shines during the day. The next few days were warm and sunny, allowing the snow to melt, but then refreeze again. The melted snow pooled in the lower areas of the lot. The store and many of its patrons knew of this problem but did nothing to warn people, barricade the area, try to salt, or remove the snow and ice. If a patron parked her car there, exited the vehicle and wiped out, there might be liability for both the store and the snow removal contractor.
As with all premises cases, the concept of “notice” is —what did the owner/manager know about either creating or allowing a dangerous condition to exist and when did they know it?
The short answer is that snow and ice cases are very complicated and fact-specific.
Aisles in the Sun
As you’ve no doubt experienced, some store aisles get slippery during the winter. People wear boots that track in moisture from outside. If you slip on a wet entryway or store aisle, can you recover damages from the property owner?
Again, it depends.
Generally, “tracked in” water or snow is not a condition that gives rise to liability. However, there are cases where liability did arise. Some stores make reasonable attempts to regularly patrol the aisles. Most major ones have policies requiring this. Often in the winter, stores will install extra mats by the entryways to allow patrons coming in from outside to walk on a non-slip surface before encountering tile flooring.
But what if the mats become saturated and are not changed regularly? What if the store knows people are complaining about the slippery entryway and the store fails to put signage warning people or install dry mats or mop the floor regularly? These scenarios might allow recovery.
Slip Sliding (Walking) Away
Sidewalk slips are as complicated as a Paul Simon lyric (you see what I did there, right?).
There are lots of moving parts to these cases. First, sidewalks are municipal property, but also can be used by the general public. Second, as with all premises cases, there is the notice requirement. Municipalities simply can’t watch over every single sidewalk. So, to recover for a fall due to, say, a height differential, you’d have to show it was large enough for the municipality to have reasonably known about, yet not so large that the walker should have noticed it.
Confused? Wait, it gets worse. Because now we add snow and ice to the mix.
Walking down a sidewalk that is snowy or icy can be treacherous. While there is a high likelihood you can slip and fall, there is a low likelihood you can recover against a municipality for injuries sustained. Again, some weight will go to whether the landowner/homeowner had a duty to clear the sidewalk (and could that homeowner be a possible defendant?). Also, since the municipality can’t police every foot of sidewalk, you will generally be out of luck. But there may be situations where a slippery area is hidden, where the pedestrian has no choice but to walk on the slick (hidden) spot, or similar scenario, where there may be liability.
Bottom line, slip and fall premises cases are difficult to win and are always fought aggressively by the defendant. That’s before you factor in snow and ice. Let’s face it, if everyone who slipped on snow or ice was able to recover, the court system would be bombarded. Judges will dismiss these cases if they do not demonstrate the elements discussed above.
If you file such a lawsuit, expect a Motion to Dismiss or Motion for Summary Judgment from the defendant, either of which, if successful, would end your case. These motions happen in almost every slip and fall case. That is reason number one why you should never try to bring a slip and fall case without a lawyer. In fact, seeing a lawyer early on can help you determine whether or not you even have a viable case. Better to find out early instead of after four years of fruitless litigation.
- Slip and fall (premises) cases are among the most difficult and hotly contested cases in Illinois
- The law requires some element of notice
- Snow and ice cases are even more complicated, requiring an “unnatural accumulation.”
- Facts regarding where and how the fall occurred affect whether there is a viable case.
Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman
As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.
If you’ve been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has over 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.
Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front, and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.