Pam: Barry, the other area that I was curious about, are cases where people slip and fall on the ice in the winter time. I bet you get a ton of calls with cases like that.
Barry: Yeah. We actually do get a lot of calls on that during the winter, but we actually take very few of those cases, because they are tough, tough, tough cases.
Pam: So, why are they so tough?
Barry: The law normally follows what’s called “the natural accumulation of snow and ice” rule. And what it is, is this: if what you fall on is considered a natural accumulation of snow or ice, there’s no liability. The property owner has no obligation to remove it, to sand, to salt, to warn about, or do anything about it at all.
On the other hand, if it’s an unnatural accumulation of snow or ice, then there is, at least the potential for, some liability. Now, the difference between what’s natural versus unnatural, sometimes, is really hard to determine the difference between the two.
In general, it’s going to be considered natural if it’s a result of just snow or rain falling and freezing in a particular location. I look for something to be considered an unnatural accumulation of snow or ice, if there’s some type of defect or feature in the property that causes snow or ice to accumulate in one particular location.
So, the “natural accumulation of snow and ice” rule applies also where you have ice that’s formed by snow or vehicles tamping down the snow and forming ice. It also applies in another situation, and that’s where people track in snow from outside, and it melts inside.
So, for example, when you go into a grocery store after it snows, and there’s water all over the entranceway, that’s still considered a natural accumulation, even though it’s inside, if you can believe that. So, it’s a rule that actually has a fairly broad application.
Pam: So then, now do you tell the difference between what is a natural versus an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice?
Barry: A lot of times, it’s really hard to tell the difference between the two. For me, what’s an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice, is something that’s caused by a feature or defect in the property.
So, a lot of times what you’ll see in the winter time, is you’ll see recurrent patches of snow and ice in that particular location. But, if you go back there in the spring, or the summer, or the fall when it rains, you’ll also see puddles in that same location.
To give you an example of a case where I was able to establish that somebody fell on an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice, I was representing a lady, who was on her way into work one morning, and she slipped and fell on a city sidewalk.
Now, the sidewalk where she fell, the two sidewalk squares were tilted, one in against the other, and that particular section of sidewalk was alongside a building that abutted the city sidewalk. So, the building was right there, and the sidewalk squares were also tilted in towards the building, so that effectively, it had a little bowl right where the two sidewalk squares came together.
And, when we went out there during the spring, we would find, after a heavy rainfall, that there was a giant puddle in that particular location. And, obviously, in the winter, when conditions were right, you would end up with ice in that particular location.
Unfortunately, for this lady, she happened to slip and fall on ice that was in that particular location, because of how the sidewalk squares were tilted, one in against the other, and then slanted towards the building. So, that was a situation, where that was, to my mind, very clearly an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice.
And that’s a key example of how we find something to be an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice, and not subject to this natural accumulation rule, which makes so many of these other cases so difficult.
Pam: Okay. Last question on this topic. Can you really be sued if you do a bad job shoveling your walk?
Barry: So, one of these urban legends, is that you can actually be sued if you do a bad job shoveling your walk. But, you’re absolutely fine if you don’t do any shoveling at all. That’s not true at all.
Illinois has a statute called the Snow and Ice Removal Act, which, basically, immunizes private property owners for the job that they do shoveling their walk. So, be a good neighbor, shovel you walk. It’s the right thing to do, and you’re certainly not going to be liable for doing a bad job for doing it.