A winter wonderland can quickly produce conditions that result in slip and fall accidents. Injuries, from falling on wet floors from snow tracked in by customers of retail stores skyrocket. But you’ll be surprised to learn how limited the liability is for store owners when falls on ice and water occur on their property.
While it is in the best interests of retailers to make their stores accessible to the public during the winter months in a manner that’s both convenient and safe, Illinois law usually does not require a store owner, retailer, corporation or individual to pay any damages or medical bills for injuries due to falls on ice and snow and/or trampled in water.
When it comes to injuries that occur on private property, whether it’s a neighboring home or a commercial retail store and parking lot, the public is widely misinformed about the owner’s responsibility and liability. Just because you fell on ice in a Wal-Mart store entrance or in their parking lot, for example, does not make Wal-Mart liable for your injuries.
Snow, Ice and Slush
As ice and heavy snow conditions naturally blanket much of our state, slip and fall injuries rise dramatically. However, these slip and fall injuries are generally not compensable because snow is considered “an act of god”. Recovery can only be had when the water, snow or ice is “unnatural”. Under Illinois law, the snow is unnatural if it came to the scene negligently or careless through the intervention of man or woman.
For example, here are some means of an “unnatural accumulation”:
- The store shoveled the snow into the entrance way;
- The store shoveled snow and created a large pile that melted into a pathway and ice formed.
- The store covered holes with the snow
- Water dripped from a roof due to a bad gutter
- Poor lighting or other unsafe conditions at a store.
However, under the following circumstances, there generally will be no recovery in Illinois:
- A customer slips and falls on snow/ice/water tracked into a store by customers on the floor of the entrance way;
- The customer slips and falls on snow or ice that wasn’t shoveled by the store;
- The customer slips and falls on ice or snow that was shoveled, but the person who shoveled left residual ice and snow on the ground.
- Somebody slips and falls on ice and snow at your front sidewalk because you didn’t shovel it, or you did shovel it but some ice and snow remained.
Of course, there are always exceptions, but the above examples are the general rule.
The vast majority of slip and fall injuries in Illinois are non-compensable; in other words, the injured person can recover no compensation.
Retail owners, by law, are not required to remove natural snow from their premises, or apply salt to keep ice from forming. In its natural state, patrons bear responsibility to ensure their own careful navigation during snow and ice conditions. If ice should form from natural melting of snow causing a fall in a parking lot, the law does not place any responsibility on the property owner to make the condition safe.
Tracked-in moisture is also common to retail outlets, as natural accumulation of slush, snow and melting ice fall from patrons shoes once inside their stores.
The law recognizes that it is nearly impossible for a retailer to continuously remove wet tracks left by customers after walking through snow and slush in the parking lot, and they consider such “tracks” to be part of the natural accumulation of the same.
If mats that have been placed inside the storefront become wet and lead to tracks further inside the store, the law also recognizes such tracks as part of the natural event.
When in doubt, an injured party must capture the conditions present at the time of injury through photos and obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses. The insurance carrier will certainly never bring forward favorable witnesses for you. Their profit motives are to deprive you of the benefit of insurance. Given that most cell phones today have adequate cameras built in, a few quick shots of the area can make the difference between a recovery of reasonable compensation and no compensation.
What may seem like a minor injury at the time could turn out to be more acute as time passes. Always report any slip and fall injuries or occurrences to a store manager or property owner, and obtain a copy of the report. The report should include a date, time of accident, general description of what happened and the name of whom you reported the incident to. Otherwise, the insurance carrier will argue to the jury that you invented your accident.
Finally, always consult a lawyer to get free advice on what you should do.
Managing Partner and Lead Trial Attorney, Clifford Horwitz, welcomes your comments on this article and can be reached Toll Free at (800)-985-1819.