With apologies to Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, just like there’s nothing funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding, there is nothing funny about falling on snow or ice.
Those of us who live in intemperate climates have certainly had the experience at least a few times, of falling or sliding on snow or ice. Often, we injure nothing but our dignity and perhaps our new clothes. However, unfortunately, some injuries can be severe, involving fractures or other serious damage.
When and who can you sue for this if it happens to you? And what can you do as a property owner to protect yourself in icy conditions?
The law in Illinois is tough for plaintiffs on premises liability cases.
The key element in slip and fall cases is demonstrating notice of the dangerous condition. In other words, just because you fall at the Jewel on a squished grape does not necessarily mean you win. You have to demonstrate that the management of the store knew, or reasonably should have known, of the existence of that grape for a reasonable period of time so that they could have done something about it.
How can you possibly prove this? It’s not an easy task! Some ways to prove this would be: surveillance tape, testimony about the appearance of the grape (other footprints on and around it mean it probably was there for some time), or eyewitnesses.
These are extremely difficult cases.
Factor in snow and ice and the difficulty of the case becomes exponentially tougher.
In order to prevail in a snowy premises liability case, a plaintiff must demonstrate that she slipped or fell on an “unnatural accumulation” of snow or ice.
What does that mean?
It means that if you fall on a snowy sidewalk or icy stairs, generally you are out of luck.
But if you fall in a parking lot of a store where it is clear a snow plowing crew pushed all the snow into a high area, it melted and then refroze in a lower area by your car, you might be able to prove that to be an unnatural accumulation.
Or suppose you enter a business that clearly shoveled and salted its sidewalk but did a poor job and left a sheet of ice on the sidewalk? Perhaps you can demonstrate their snow removal attempts were negligent and that the accumulation you slipped on was “unnatural.”
Again, these are very difficult cases to prove.
Some municipalities (like Chicago) have laws requiring residents and businesses to make reasonable attempts to clear snow from their domain.
If a business or homeowner does nothing, can you sue? The answer is a qualified yes. Again, the specific facts of the case determine the viability of every claim, so there’s no guarantee. But with the municipal laws, a higher burden is placed on the property owner, giving plaintiffs more of a chance.
Meanwhile, outside of Chicago, many other municipalities don’t require individuals and businesses to make attempts to clear snow or ice, which more or less insulates them from liability. That doesn’t seem fair either. You don’t plan your slipping on ice based on what city you are in! But where you are greatly impacts your likelihood of being able to bring suit.
If you are a business owner or homeowner, research whether your city or town has a requirement that you clear your area.
If you do make an attempt to clear or hire someone to do it, make sure the job is done well. Watch for the proverbial piles of snow in higher areas exposed to the sun that predictably will melt and ice over into lower areas.
Use salt to melt ice.
But keep in mind many animal paws are very sensitive to these substances, so utilize the pet-friendly varieties.
As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been injured in a slip and fall get medical treatment, report the incident to the property owner and gather any evidence you can (security cameras, eyewitnesses, etc), and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as premises liability.
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 nearly 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 upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.