Illinois Courts continue to reduce landowner liability in snow and ice cases.
Prevailing on a case where a client has fallen due to snow or ice has never been a walk in the park. And Illinois Courts seem determined to make it even harder. Let’s discuss Ryan v. Glen Ellyn Raintree, et al, a recent decision out of the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District. The case grew out of injuries Mary Ryan suffered when she fell at a the Glen Ellyn Raintree Condominium Association in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Ryan fell just outside the entrance to one of the buildings in the complex. She alleged that she slipped on a patch of ice that had formed from water dripping from an overhead awning and then freezing on the sidewalk . Water dripping onto a sidewalk and then freezing sounds dangerous doesn’t it? Especially right in front of an entrance. But hold on.
The Raintree defendants moved to toss the case on two fronts. First, they argued the common law rule that landowners have no duty to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice. Secondly, they argued that the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act[“the Act”] barred plaintiff’s case. The Act provides absolves property owners from liability for injuries resulting from an owner’s attempt to remove ice or snow from a sidewalk unless the conduct was “wilful and wanton” – which basically means the owner knew his conduct was likely to cause an injury. The defendants argued that that plaintiff slipped due to the defendants’ failed snow removal efforts. The plaintiff, in response said the negligence arose from an architectural feature[the overhead awning] and had nothing to do with snow removal. Plaintiff even supplied an affidavit from an architect blaming the awning for allowing water to accumulate and then freeze on the sidewalk. Seems pretty easy – primary allegations point to the awning, not snow removal. Plaintiff should win, right. Nope. The trial court agreed with the defendants and said that “….no matter how the ice was formed, defendants’ immediate or proximate negligence, as alleged by plaintiff, was in failing to remove the patch, despite their general snow and ice removal efforts…” So the trial court tossed the case. Plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Court examined plaintiff’s complaint and the allegations of negligence. Exactly one of the eight separate allegations of negligence referred to removal of ice. The remaining allegations were general in nature or spoke to the existence of the awning and the creation of the ice on the sidewalk. Nonetheless, the Court concluded that the plaintiff alleged a lapse in snow and ice removal efforts – and then concluded the Act barred the claim.
Even before this decision lots of trial lawyers were taking a pass on snow and ice cases believing[with some justification] that courts are too quick to conclude every snow pile is a “natural accumulation”. In light of this decision, the number of lawyers who won’t take ice and snow cases is going to increase.