Hepler Broom, LLC

Winter is Coming: Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Summary Judgment for Lack of Evidence of Unnatural Accumulation

November 24, 2020

In Chicago, many people dread the long, windy, and cold winters. What makes matters even worse is when there’s excess ice and snow. However, most Chicagoans don’t try to blame others when they slip on ice and snow. It’s been a longstanding rule in Illinois that to recover for an injury after falling on ice or snow, a plaintiff must show an unnatural accumulation of ice and/or snow. However, many plaintiffs try and push the limits on what’s considered unnatural accumulation. That was the case in Leslie Cole v. Paper Street Group LLC, 2018 IL App (1st) 180474.

Background

Plaintiff alleged she was injured when she slipped on an accumulation of ice on the stairs of a property owned and managed by the Defendants, and that the Defendants were negligent in failing to keep the premises safe. She further alleged that an unnatural accumulation of ice was on the stairwell outside of her building. She alleged the ice was the result of faulty gutters, and this ice was the cause of her fall. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the Defendants as the evidence presented did not show there were any faulty gutters, that faulty gutters were the cause of any unnatural accumulation of ice, or that the Defendants knew any faulty gutters caused an unreasonably dangerous condition and that such allegedly dangerous condition caused Plaintiff’s fall.

The evidence showed the Plaintiff had lived in the building for five years. Plaintiff testified that snow was removed from the walkways and sidewalks around the building as well as from the back of the building, including stairs and landings on each level. These areas would also be salted. She never complained of a lack of shoveling or salting until the instant incident. Plaintiff also testified she thought the ice on the stairs came from drip-down from the roof above, but she didn’t know if the snow that landed on the steps had melted and then refroze to form ice. She only used the back stairs once a week to take out the garbage.

Defendants were never made aware of any complaints regarding the exterior stairway or the gutters. There were never any complaints of any ice or snow overhanging the railings on the roof or the handrails of the back stairs. The hired snow removal company always put down salt after they shoveled. They were last on the property two days before Plaintiff’s fall. for shoveling and salting. The snow removal company also never knew of any complaints regarding snow or ice on the stairs.

Appellate Court Decision

The Appellate Court affirmed the lower Court’s decision. The Court noted that there is no case law supporting the assertion that the mere presence of icicles on a gutter or on the handrails is evidence that the gutters are faulty or defective in some way. There was no evidence that the ice accumulation was unnatural or that the gutters were faulty. The Court noted Plaintiff failed to prove that the accumulation was unnatural and failed to establish that Defendants had any knowledge of a dangerous condition.

The Appellate Court agreed with Trial Court that there was no evidence of faulty gutters causing an unnatural accumulation of ice. The only evidence of the gutters being faulty was Plaintiff’s own allegation. The only basis for Plaintiff’s theory was because icicles were hanging from the roof. There was no evidence that the gutters were improperly installed, maintained, or clogged.

Additionally, Plaintiff admitted she didn’t know if the ice could have been formed by melting and refrozen snow. In this case, there was only mere speculation, and that was not enough to avoid summary judgment. Plaintiff never complained regarding the ice or snow on the stairs until the instant incident.

Takeaways

This case was a win for landowners and defendants. Although it frequently feels like the goalposts are continually moved to favor plaintiffs, they still have to prove an unnatural accumulation of snow and/or ice to successfully defeat a motion for summary judgment. Mere speculation will not suffice. With winter on the way, however, landowners still need to ensure that snow is being shoveled from their property in a reasonable time frame and that areas where ice forms  are being salted. They should also make sure to address any complaints of a slippery spot or an area where it appears that ice is forming as a result of something unnatural.

COVID-19 Updates

HeplerBroom is pleased to announce that its physical offices have reopened. While the health and safety of our clients, employees, and families, remain our top priority, HeplerBroom attorneys and staff are returning to our offices on full-time or modified schedules. Our offices are open to visitors and clients with scheduled appointments, with appropriate screening of visitors and social-distancing protocols. HeplerBroom will continue to follow CDC recommendations for cleaning and sanitizing.

We are very proud of the dedicated efforts of our attorneys and staff to provide great service and work product to our clients during the pandemic. This would not have been possible without the incredible support provided by the HeplerBroom IT Department and other essential personnel who supported our personnel and clients from the office locations while the rest of our teams worked remotely.

If you have questions about visiting our offices, please do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to seeing you in person again in the near future.