Illinois Supreme Court Rules That Home Owners Are Not Liable In Slip-and-Fall Lawsuits

seal_of_the_supreme_court_of_illinoisshoveled_sidewalk_after_february_2013_noreaster_walden_nyThere was an interesting ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court this month on the interpretation of a 1979 state law governing slip-and-fall lawsuits. It is commonly understood that homeowners are legally required to clear their walks of snow and ice.  As a native Chicagoan, this lesson was engrained into me to the point that my kids mock me for shoveling the driveway even when the roads are impassable.  I was raised that an uncleared driveway was a matter of public shame.  Now, however, couch potatoes can rejoice.  The Court has held that  the Snow and Ice Removal Act shields property owners from liability if someone gets hurt. Of course, the snow or ice must be due to natural conditions.  The case is Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Mgmt. Servs., 2016 IL 120394.

The case was brought by Pamela Murphy-Hyltonwho fell on an icy sidewalk outside her condo building in 2011, breaking her leg, knee and hip.

The association relied on an earlier law that gives immunity for accidents due to snow and ice.  The law reflected the concern, as stated by the court, that “The problem with liability arising from a voluntary undertaking theory was that it potentially encouraged inaction.”  The relevant Illinois provision states:

“Any owner, lessor, occupant or other person in charge of any residential property, or any agent of or other person engaged by any such party, who removes or attempts to remove [**15]  snow or ice from sidewalks abutting the property shall not be liable for any personal injuries allegedly caused by the snowy or icy condition of the sidewalk resulting from his or her acts or omissions unless the alleged misconduct was willful or wanton.” 745 ILCS 75/2 (West 2010)

However, this does not mean that homeowners cannot be sued under negligence or related theories for “unnatural accumulations”:

In the context of liability of a landowner for a fall on snow and ice, the general rule in Illinois historically has been that under the common law, a landowner owes no duty to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice. . . .  The rule recognizes that to hold otherwise would create an unreasonable burden of vigilance when considering that snowstorms cannot be foreseen or controlled and recognizes “‘the climatic vagaries of this area with its unpredictable snowfalls and frequent temperature changes.'” Tzakis v. Dominick’s Finer Foods, Inc., 356 Ill. App. 3d 740, 748, 826 N.E.2d 987, 292 Ill. Dec. 551 (2005) (quoting Lapidus v. Hahn, 115 Ill. App. 3d 795, 801, 450 N.E.2d 824, 71 Ill. Dec. 136 (1983)).

However, landowners do owe a duty of reasonable care to prevent unnatural accumulations of ice and snow on their premises where they have actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. Graham, 346 Ill. at 643. Thus, liability may arise where snow or ice “accumulated by artificial causes or in an unnatural way or by a defendant’s own use of the area concerned and creation of the condition, and where it has been there long enough to charge the responsible party with notice and knowledge of the dangerous condition.” Fitzsimons v. National Tea Co., 29 Ill. App. 2d 306, 318, 173 N.E.2d 534 (1961).

Various theories of liability for falls on an unnatural accumulation of ice have been recognized, including (1) a defective condition or negligent maintenance of the premises and (2) a voluntary undertaking theory. Webb v. Morgan, 176 Ill. App. 3d 378, 382-83, 531 N.E.2d 36, 125 Ill. Dec. 857 (1988). Under the negligent maintenance cases, courts recognize that the construction and maintenance of landowners’ premises are matters within their control. Therefore, to hold them to a duty of reasonable care under these circumstances does not impose an undue burden on them not to “add to the difficulties facing Illinois residents from natural accumulations of ice and snow by permitting unnatural accumulations due to defective construction or improper or insufficient maintenance of the premises.” Bloom v. Bistro Restaurant Ltd. Partnership, 304 Ill. App. 3d 707, 711, 710 N.E.2d 121, 237 Ill. Dec. 698 (1999). See, e.g., McLean v. Rockford Country Club, 352 Ill. App. 3d 229, 238, 816 N.E.2d 403, 287 Ill. Dec. 641 (2004) (alleging that specific building defects, including improperly hung and sized gutters and improperly pitched overhang roof, caused an unnatural accumulation of ice); Lapidus, 115 Ill. App. 3d at 800-01 (alleging that water dripped from leaky roof and collected in a depression on the porch and froze, causing an unnatural accumulation); McCann v. Bethesda Hospital, 80 Ill. App. 3d 544, 550-51, 400 N.E.2d 16, 35 Ill. Dec. 879 (1979) (excessive slope of the parking lot presented a question of fact whether the ice causing the fall was an unnatural accumulation).

Alternatively, under the voluntary undertaking theory, liability has been recognized where the landowner voluntarily undertakes the task of removing a natural accumulation of snow and ice and does so negligently, creating an unnatural accumulation on his property. Tzakis, 356 Ill. App. 3d at 746. See, e.g., Sims v. Block, 94 Ill. App. 2d 215, 236 N.E.2d 572 (1968) (landowner created an unnatural condition when he plowed snow up against the plaintiff’s parked car, creating a 5-to 6-inch ridge of ice along the car where plaintiff fell); Fitzsimons, 29 Ill. App. 2d at 314 (snow negligently piled in an area of a parking lot where alternate thawing and freezing caused it to drain across the lot and freeze, forming an unnatural accumulation of ice).

Notably, in this case, the Court found that this was indeed an “unnatural accumulation.”  Here are the facts that led to denial of immunity under the Illinois law:

In early February 2011, a large snowstorm hit Carol Stream, producing snowfall in excess of 20 inches. On February 7, 2011, the snow removal and landscaping service hired by the association cleared snow and ice from the sidewalks of the complex. Eleven days later, on the morning of February 18, 2011, plaintiff left her condominium unit and was walking on the sidewalk behind the building on her way to the adjacent parking lot. As she was walking, she slipped and fell, suffering a fracture to her leg, knee, and hip. She filed suit, claiming that she fell on an unnatural accumulation of ice on the sidewalk. In her fourth amended complaint, she alleged, inter alia, that defendants were negligent in failing to properly direct the drainage of water and melted snow on the premises, failing to repair defective sidewalks, and failing to repair downspouts to prevent an unnatural accumulation of ice on the sidewalk. She additionally alleged that defendants failed to comply with various local building construction and maintenance codes.

Thus, the key was that the defendants failed to remove the snow and ice mounds from the rear entrance sidewalk — a negligent performance of the snow removal contract that caused the unnatural accumulation on the sidewalk.  Given the tenor of the opinion, there will be added pressure to settle even though the direct medical costs are claimed to reach roughly $1 million.

Here is the opinion:  http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2016/120394.pdf

 

47 thoughts on “Illinois Supreme Court Rules That Home Owners Are Not Liable In Slip-and-Fall Lawsuits

  1. In New Jersey, try NOT shoveling show, or cleaning your walkway of ice! You will be treated to:

    – Tickets, fines, and summonses;
    – Bill from your municipality when they send workers to do it for you;
    – Lawsuits from ‘injured’ pedestrians.
    – Too many other possibilities to list all here.

    Why do you think I left the ‘Garbage State’? It’s not even a nice place to visit anymore …

  2. So glad I don’t have sidewalks to worry about and I am quite accomplished at driving my car out of snow so no driveway worries. Well, except when the plow comes through and piles the edge high with hard packed snow and ice.

    • Oh, come on, Autumn, don’t taunt me with a video that looks cool that I can’t watch with my lack of bandwidth!!! Can you sum it up for me?

      • Karen S, whaaat? surely you can watch this video but then again I am technologically “challenged” so WTF do I know?!

        Hmm, to sum it up it’s a recap of why HRC lost – she never had the enthusiasm of Bernie’s supporters, how the DNC literally shut down their protests with sound machines, turning off lights, etc. when war monger Panetta spoke and HOW if a Republican had continued/and started new wars who how the cult (my name for HRC/blind DNC supporters) would have howled and complained. I dunno it’s hard to summarize Jimmy’s schtick which is based on facts and laced with dark comedy.

  3. It is spulled : Hermann. Here is a bit from wikipedia:

    The city was founded by the Deutsche Ansiedlungs-Gesellschaft zu Philadelphia (German Settlement Society of Philadelphia) in 1837.[9] It was promoted by Gottfried Duden, who wrote about the area in his Bericht über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nord Amerikas (Report of a Journey to the Western States of Northern America). An early group of settlers were led by George Bayer and Edward Hermann, who bought the land and is considered by many to be the founder of the town. The town was platted after the society sold shares in the 11,300 acres (4,600 ha) of Gasconade River valley land it had purchased.
    The Hermannhof Winery

    The society had almost utopian goals of a “heart of German-America” where it could perpetuate traditional German culture and establish a self-supporting colony built around farming, commerce, and industry. The town is named after Hermann der Cherusker, a Germanic leader who defeated the Romans in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in the year 9. In 2009, Hermann celebrated the 2000th anniversary of the battle, in which the Germanic warrior Hermann defeated three Roman legions. [10]

    A bronze statue of the city’s namesake was dedicated in the Hermann Park.[11]

    In the 1960s, people began to rebuild the wine industry in the Hermann area.

    Today, the vineyards and wineries contribute to the agricultural and heritage tourism economies, with winery tours and wine tastings. Stone Hill Winery, the largest winemaking business in the state, and Hermannhof Winery are in the town. Two miles south of town off Missouri Highway 100 West is Adam Puchta Winery, the oldest continuously family-owned winery in the nation, under direct family ownership since 1855.[12] Bias Vineyards is less than eight miles (13 km) east near Berger on Missouri Highway 100. Also included in the Hermann AVA are Oakglenn Vineyards and Winery, 2½ miles east of Hermann; Bommarito Estate Almond Tree Winery; and Röbbler Vineyards and Winery near New Haven.

    The Katy Trail, a 225-mile (362 km)-long bike path, passes through McKittrick, a town on the northern side of the Missouri River across from Hermann.

    The Hermann Historic District, Kotthoff-Weeks Farm Complex, Old Stone Hill Historic District, William Poeschel House, The Rotunda, and Vallet-Danuser House are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[13]

  4. Growing up in then-West Germany in the 70s/80s it was expected that people were responsible for shoveling snow and putting down salt or sand to prevent ice build up so people wouldn’t slip and fall. And the neighborhoods worked together to ensure the safety of all people and pitched in if a person was disabled and couldn’t participate.

    • There is a German town named Herman which is like this. All the people pitch in. Signs on buildings get cleaned, streets swept, snow and ice shoveled dutifully. Herman is in Mid Missouri. it was formed by a group from a town in Germany with the same name and they all founded the town at once. Great place.

    • It used to be like that. Neighbors would notice if someone was old or otherwise having trouble with upkeep, and would go cut their grass, trim their hedges, shovel their driveway, and bring casseroles when they were sick.

      Now people don’t know the names of their neighbors.

      We’ve lost connectivity and responsibility, as well as pride in doing for ourselves and others.

  5. Back in Northern Alberta in the early sixties, it routinely dropped to 40 below. It doesn’t matter if it’s celsius or fahrenheit, 40 below is 40 below. It was so cold our neighbor used to light a small fire under his VW beetle to loosen things up. Sometimes when we spoke the words came out frozen and we had to light a match under them to hear what was going on. As a teenager, I made 50 cents a front lawn and 50 cents a back lawn in the summer and 50 cents a driveway after it snowed; more money than I knew what to do with. Before that I was a PI in Nova Scotia. It was cold there as well, in the winters.

  6. Why do you people LIVE there! This year our Townsville winter was a Wednesday – and there wasn’t a snowflake to be seen! 🙂

  7. That foto looks like the householders version of what the city or county does when they fill in your sidealks etc. AFTER you’ve shoveled them clean.

  8. That’s interesting. My extended family and I were just at a rental house, and there was no rain gutter over the garage. That meant that the icicles and roof snow melted during the warmer daytime temperatures, but froze solid on the pavement during the cold nights. My sister was unpacking the car and walked in front of it to go inside, and immediately slipped and fell hard on her tailbone, either badly bruising it or slightly cracking it. She just brushed it off and laughed about the size of the bruise. None of us thought about suing the owner; we just avoided that area and warned each other away. It’s clearly a design flaw of the house. When we were kids the rule was our family shoveled the driveway and sidewalk, and the expectation was to help anyone who couldn’t do it. If we slipped than my parents would have told me to be more careful next time.

    What if someone is old or otherwise couldn’t shovel the sidewalk, but they could not hire someone to do it, and the neighborhood didn’t help them. Could they be sued in IL?

    I’ve lived in places that get snow, and we’d get occasional blizzards, but never in serious winter hinterlands like Chicago. Some of my relatives are from MN. They had to tie a rope from the house to the barn so they wouldn’t get lost in a blizzard when they went out to feed the stock. Living in places like that would require a lot of work to keep the property clear, which would be difficult for some people to do. I remember watching a video of a relative snow blowing his roof to reduce the weight of snow on it. How many people over 60 could do that, or remove 4 feet of snow from the sidewalk? I’m curious how the liability works, having lived in a milder climate as an adult.

    • Karen, I hope you had a nice family gathering. Your sister’s attitude used to be the norm. Now, she’s the exception. I’ve meant to tell you, my wives 3rd book is out. Taken for a Fool is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and i-Tunes.

  9. If there can be a collection of money for falling on ice then lame ducks with a broken ankle will go there and fall down or act like they did on the ice and then collect from the home owner. The home owner is liable. Good maybe if he has insurance but the notion of being liable because some dork slipped on ice is beyond the Pale- or Palin. And she lived in Alaska.

  10. Illinois finally caught up with Michigan. I guess it’s better to have them on welfare than have a homeowner carrier give up some of its billions.

  11. Living in Montana, is was my job to shovel a path in the snow in front of the house. We had a corner house so I had to do the front and the long side. I was the designated shoveler from age 8 to 18, when I left town. I will never live where there is snow again. It may be hot in Arizona, but you never have to shovel sun.

  12. I’ve worked countless slip and fall cases, defending insurance companies, many in Chicago. The “unnatural accumulation” is always key. Most of the cases have facts similar to this one. And, as JT has outlined so well, the “unnatural accumulation” aspect can get quite tedious. The drainage, topography, hell..the sunlight exposure, and a myriad other conditions are factors.

    One of the winters we lived in Chicago was very snowy and bitterly cold. If you drive through Chicago neighborhoods in the winter one might think it is summer, w/ lawn chairs and kitchen chairs sitting on the curb. You see, there is an unwritten squatter rule. If you shovel out your car parked on the street, and place a chair in that spot when you leave, it is YOUR SPOT! No doubt there have been lawsuits involving this unique custom. I never worked one, however.

  13. After living in Milwaukee for seven years, I know there are no unnatural accumulations of ice on sidewalks . . . for six months each and every year. I’ll never forget that crunching sound as newly-formed ice pressed itself into the old on roads and sidewalks alike, and the sweet smell of salt corroding the quarter panels of my car as I prayed for spring and then the construction season.

    Then there were the crazies who piled up snow with the idea that no one should walk on their sidewalk for the fortress of months-old snow they’d shoveled up as a bulwark against invasion by their neighbors’ kids as they walked to school and by the little old ladies’ suffering the dangers of walking to the grocer. As the coup de grace, how about the daggars dropping from the two-foot stalactites at the front door right after your guest slips and falls? Willkommen!

    I like the idea of liability for not cleaning up snow and ice within the owner/possessor’s control. Makes sense to me. I don’t know that it has to be after a voluntary undertaking, however. Failure to undertake in the upper midwest seems negligent to me.

    • This is been the law or lack of it in Wyoming forever. 2 lawsuits there ain’t in the Cowboy state:

      1. If you slip and fall on natural snow or ice ANYWHERE, it’s on you. Living in WY is like going to a golf match: You get whacked, well, what did you expect with stuff flying around ?

      2. If you hit a snowplow, ever, it’s on you. Plows in WY are like cabs in NY. You can’t go a block without seeing one.

      Lest you think we are snowbound, know that we go on picnics and play baseball during Wyoming summers. That is if summer falls on a weekend.

      Go Wyo!

      • Chuck, I’m a PI who works defense. I worked a few cases of cars hitting snowplows. One was a death case. The snow was very powdery w/ over a foot of freshly fallen snow. It was mostly sunny, the snow having ceased hows prior to the crash. The plaintiff was driving about 60mph, only 5 mph over the limit, but much too fast for conditions. It was an interstate and a county truck was clearing the left lane. The plaintiff drove into the snow squall created by the plow and hit the truck, which at the time was traveling about 20mph, killing the plaintiff almost instantly. We were sued w/ the main allegation being the truck was not properly lit w/ strobe lights. It went to trial and we prevailed. This was a Wisconsin case. For all you southerners, anyone w/ a bit of intelligence NEVER drives into a snow squall on a sunny day. There’s a few tons of metal in that squall.

        • Those of us accustomed to winter driving in Wyoming always know what that squall ahead is. But, no matter what it is, driving into it blind will probably do you great harm. Might be a few cattle crossing the road in a ground blizzard; might be a side-wind coming down a canyon to blow you off the road; might be anything, but most probably isn’t something a driver wants to hit. Slow down, or better yet, stay home until the plows come home.

        • I don’t think it is “west of the Mississippi” so much as a lower population density. It is much easier to be nice to people, when there aren’t so many around. Many experiments have been done involving putting more and more rats into a cage. At some point, the rats just turn on each other.

    • Yep. All lawyers are jerks until you’re in jail for DWI at 3:00AM, then you think we’re St Bernard’s. No one likes lawyers except their own, or when they’re confined. So, if you get caught, call your mom and dump the overpaid lawyers. We have a professional term for people such as yourself who, apparently, would represent themselves rather than overpay a lawyer: we call them convicts.

      • All lawyers are jerks? No, not all. However, who use lawyers to stack the deck against you? Those with money, because they can easily hire a lawyer to write a dozen pages of legalese that you’d have to pay a lawyer of your own $100/hr to decipher for you, only for you to come to realize that you’re in a bad position, but one that you cannot escape, because everyone who offers you a contract for that thing will be putting you in a similarly bad position, the only difference being the details. So unless you have enough money that you can afford to buy a lawyerly advantage to impose upon others does hiring a lawyer make any kind of fiscal sense. And if you run afoul of the contractual fine print that a lawyer has been hired to create, then a lawyer will haul you in front of a lawyer, who will totally not side with her fellow lawyer, and find that you are liable because you didn’t have a law degree that would enable you to understand the contract that you had to sign so as to enable you to go through the mechanics of living. An d lawyers like this system, because it ensures that they will get paid by the people with money.

        And if you do hire a lawyer to defend yourself, and lose, and don’t understand why, who can you appeal to? At best, more lawyers, and after you feel you’ve been screwed by not only the rich guy’s lawyer, and also your own lawyer, how much trust will you have in even more lawyers?

        Furthermore, to most people, lawyers not only make a living off of things being confusing, they /like/ it that way, and do their best to confuse you as much as possible, not only through contracts but through legislation – with them trumpeting all the way that they are actually clarifying things, not confusing them, making you feel stupid for being the sucker falling afoul of everything. That in terms of the courts what they are saying is true is no comfort. If you hire a mechanic to replace your brakes, and the brakes fail, you know who screwed you, and probably why, if not exactly how. And if you come to the courts for relief, who’s got an lawyer standing next to him? The brake guy, of course, ready to work hard to ensure that you get no relief after being screwed.

        Lawyers, of course, are just as prone to the next professional to claim victimization by such mean words as these. It isn’t their fault, they say, that they defend and serve the guy with the money, and it only makes sense that someone struggling to make the bills and have a few nice things should make do with even less, so that they have the money available to hire lawyers of their own .

        Lawyering is your chosen profession, folks. If you don’t like people saying mean things like this, then maybe you should either develop some understanding for what your profession does to people, and maybe even consider coming up with some corrections, because the way most people perceive y’all is solely due to how you all collectively represent it to the rest of us. Or, of course, get out of the profession, and become mechanics, or plumbers, or farmers, or other professions that the vast majority of people can relate to.

        Oh, and while the cops might arrest you for that DUI (maybe even with a gun to your temple as an added bonus), who fights hard to make sure that you suffer as much as possible for it? A plumber, maybe? Yeah, that’s it. That’s the ticket. The job of prosecuting people always falls to plumbers.

        Jesus, the bunkered mindsets of the profession…

        • Maybe not jerks, but they are certainly participants in an unholy government created monopoly called the BAR. The antithesis of what one would expect in a free country with a “free market”. Far worse that being jerks IMHO.

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