Property owners get direction on snow, ice removal

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal-injury. His column “Law and Wellness” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

Now that evenings are growing longer, many businesses will begin to plan for the wintery conditions that lie ahead. A decision handed down on Aug. 22 in the appellate court, Barber v. C.J. Partners, Inc., 2012 IL App (4th) 110992, has brought clarity to the issue of what constitutes a natural accumulation of snow and ice and what lengths a property owner is required to go to in order to ensure the safety of customers.

The land in question in the present case was a gas station parking lot that had been cleared of snow by contractors on the date of the incident. There were two metal plates in the parking lot, the tops of which were approximately half an inch lower than the surface of the car park. The tops of the metal covers would become packed with snow as a result of being lower than the surface of the car park. Salt was placed on the metal covers on the date of the incident.

The plaintiff parked her vehicle on the metal cover. Upon exiting the vehicle, the plaintiff slipped and broke her leg, requiring surgeries and loss of wages. The plaintiff stated in her deposition that she did not fall on the metal cover but on ice on top of the concrete. The plaintiff was awarded $496,609.67 in damages, which was reduced by 25 percent to reflect the plaintiff’s contributory negligence.

During the trial, the defendant moved twice for a directed verdict. Both requests were denied. The defendant’s second motion for directed verdict argued that the snow and ice that the plaintiff slipped on was a natural accumulation and the defendant therefore had no duty to warn or protect the plaintiff from such an accumulation. The natural accumulation rule states that “a landowner or possessor of real property has no duty to remove natural accumulations of ice, snow or water from its property.” Krywin v Chicago Transit Authority, 238 Ill.2d 215 (2010). However, a landowner may be subject to liability if his voluntary undertaking to remove snow and ice is performed in a negligent manner.

When deciding if the snow that was accumulated from the defendants’ plowing and salting, the court found prior decisions on salting instructive. It was previously stated that if snow that had melted after the application of salt refreezes, this new composition is said to be a natural accumulation. The court found in the present case that a natural accumulation resulted from the defendant’s plowing and salting and so defendant had no duty to remove and could not have been liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. It was noted that rarely can actions such as shoveling and plowing be done perfectly and any requirement to reach such perfection would be an unreasonable burden on property owners.

The consequences of this case are that if a property owner voluntarily undertakes to remove snow and ice, then they should ensure that such removal is not reckless or negligent, but also be mindful that a standard of perfection need not be reached.

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