Don't Let Your Personal Injury Claim Slip and Fall This Winter

For the people of the Midwest, the change of seasons, from fall to winter, means the return of snow and outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, sledding and skiing. And, while snow can be picturesque and conjure images of hot chocolate and fireplaces, it also can have a dangerous side - not all images of winter are idyllic.

Along with snow, the return of winter also brings ice and the potential for slippery conditions. The risk of injuries from slips and falls increases as snow and ice accumulate on or near sidewalks, parking lots or other outdoor areas where people walk. When people are injured after slipping and falling on icy conditions present on the property of a place of business or a homeowner, personal injury lawsuits may be filed to seek compensation for the injuries suffered. This is what happened in the case of Hornacek v. 5th Avenue Property Management.

Premises Liability in Illinois

Jennifer Hornacek claims that in January 2007, she was injured after she fell on black ice that had accumulated on the parking lot at her place of employment as she was walking to her vehicle. Ms. Hornacek filed a personal injury lawsuit against the owners of the building where her work was located and against the company contracted to remove snow and ice from the building's parking lot. She alleges that she fell and sustained injuries because both parties were negligent.

In order for Ms. Hornacek to recover compensation for her injuries, she must prove the elements of a premises liability claim based on negligence. In general, the elements of this type of claim are:

  • Duty - Does the defendant have a duty of care to others? The Illinois Court of Appeals states this is "an obligation of reasonable conduct for the benefit of the plaintiff." There are several factors that the court can use to determine if there is a duty owed, including "reasonable foreseeability" of injuries, likelihood of injuries, and the "burden against guarding against" injuries.
  • Breach - Did the defendant's fail to uphold the duty of care?
  • Causation - Was the defendant's breach of the duty of care the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries?
  • Injuries - Did the plaintiff suffer actual injuries or damages?

Unnatural Accumulation

In Illinois, property owners are not responsible for injuries suffered when people slip and fall on snow or ice that has naturally accumulated or ice that has been left undisturbed. This means that when people fall during or right after a snow or ice storm, property owners cannot be held liable for the injuries if they have yet to shovel or plow.

However, people who are injured during slips and falls on unnatural accumulations of snow and ice can seek compensation for their injuries. In other words, if property owners are negligent or fail to use ordinary care when removing snow and ice, they can be held liable for any slip and fall injuries that occur. According to the court of appeals, the presence of "piles of snow" indicates "an unnatural accumulation."

Actual or Constructive Knowledge

Further, for property owners to be held liable for unnatural accumulations of snow and ice, the court has held that they must also have had "actual or constructive knowledge of the condition." The court of appeals says that constructive notice can be proven by the plaintiff by showing that the "hazardous condition existed for a sufficient amount of time" or through exercising reasonable care the defendant "should have discovered the dangerous condition."

Ms. Hornacek claims that the owners of the building and the snow removal company negligently plowed the parking lot in a way that allowed for black ice to accumulate unnaturally and that the property owners knew of or should have discovered the dangerous condition. It is alleged in the lawsuit that there have been slips and falls and complaints about the icy condition of the parking lot prior to Ms. Hornacek's fall.

The outcome of Ms. Hornacek's case is yet to be decided - initially, the defendants received a summary judgment, but that decision was appealed and the case was remanded for trial - but one thing is clear: slip and fall cases involving snow and ice are complex.

If you are injured after slipping and falling on a plowed or shoveled walkway this winter, speak with an experienced Illinois personal injury attorney about your legal rights and options.