As this past winter has repeatedly and dramatically demonstrated, snow and ice accumulation are a fact of life in Illinois. Unfortunately, so are the painful, life-altering injuries that can result from a hard fall on ice or from tripping over a snow covered defect on the ground. The insurance companies have successfully lobbied government officials to shield businesses (and their insurance policies) from fairly compensating people injured by their own failure to clear ice and snow. As a result, it is generally the rule in Illinois that there is no duty for a business to clear snow or ice, even if a municipal ordinance requires them to do so. There is also no general duty to warn patrons of natural accumulations, including when water and ice is tracked into stores. Currently, there are only three situations in which a person can recover for a fall caused by snow or ice, however the attorneys at Kanoski Bresney are well versed in all three.
The first situation in which recovery is possible is when an unnatural accumulation of ice and/or snow causes the fall. What is an unnatural accumulation? An unnatural accumulation can be caused by inappropriate construction or design, by improper snow clearing activities, or by shoddy maintenance. For example, an unnatural accumulation may be caused when runoff from a clogged gutter refreezes somewhere unexpected, when a plow piles snow which melts and refreezes where it normally would not, or when an unnatural depression in a parking lot fills with water and freezes. When an unnatural accumulation causes a person's injuries, that person must also prove: 1) That the landowning business knew or should have known about the unnatural accumulation and the risk it posed, 2) That the business knew or should have known that its customers would not be able to detect the risk or protect themselves against the risk, and 3) That an unreasonable action (or failure to take reasonable precaution) by the business caused the fall.
The second situation in which an injured person may recover for a fall on ice or snow depends on where the person was when they fell. In Illinois, when businesses tell their customers where they must enter and exit their business, they have a duty to keep those entrances and exits free from unreasonable hazards to patrons, including snow and ice. When there is a known dangerous condition along the path in and out of a business, the business has a duty to provide proper lighting and warning to its customers, or to remove the hazard. If the business fails to meet this duty and this failure causes a person's injuries, recovery is possible for the person's lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
The final situation where a person who falls may recover is when a contract requires a business, usually a plowing company, to clear snow and ice, but they fail to do so and this failure causes the fall. It must also be proven that the injured person was a third-party beneficiary of this contract. This means that one of the goals of the contract was to provide a safe walking surface for the business's customers.
Cases that arise from falls on snow and ice are often very difficult to prove, but for more than 30 years the attorneys at Kanoski Bresney have successfully handled these cases for our clients. There is a limited amount of time to make a claim. If you think you have a case or would just like more information, please do not hesitate to call our offices.