CHICAGO (AP) — Property owners can take comfort, but shouldn’t lapse into negligence, now that the Illinois Supreme Court has clarified a 1979 state law protecting them from some slip-and-fall lawsuits.
The high court reaffirmed earlier this month that the Snow and Ice Removal Act shields property owners from liability if someone gets hurt because they didn’t do a good enough job of shoveling, but only when the snow or ice was the result of natural conditions.
The court ruled Dec. 1 that when lawmakers passed the law nearly four decades ago, they meant to protect property owners from injury claims resulting from inadequate shoveling. The law, the court said, was intended to encourage people to voluntarily clear their sidewalks.
But property owners aren’t free to ignore hazardous “unnatural accumulations” of ice and snow, the court said.
The case stems from a suburban Chicago woman who fell on an icy sidewalk outside her Carol Stream condo building in 2011, breaking her leg, knee and hip. Pamela Murphy-Hylton claims that inadequate drainage and the placement of downspouts caused the icy patch. She’s seeking damages from the condominium association and the property management company.
Attorneys for Klein Creek Condominium Association and Lieberman Management Services had argued the law gave them immunity, winning a summary judgment in trial court that was reversed on appeal.
The Illinois Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Mary Jane Theis, affirmed the appellate court’s judgment and sent the case back to the trial court.
“The Snow and Ice Removal Act provides immunity to residential property owners from claims of liability for injuries allegedly caused by icy sidewalks that result from negligent snow and ice removal efforts, but it does not extend to immunize them from claims of liability for injuries allegedly caused by icy sidewalks that result from an otherwise negligent failure to maintain the premises,” Theis wrote.
Attorney Kristina K. Green said her client has steep medical bills — possibly totaling $1 million — and is ready to resolve the case, either through mediation or at trial.
“The statute’s intent was you can’t get in trouble for attempts to clear the ice and snow,” Green said. “The ice that our client slipped on wasn’t the result of snow and ice removal efforts. The ice formed because there were defects in the property.”
The Illinois Supreme Court ruling aligns with “the way the law was intended,” Green said. “We think it was the right decision obviously.”
A phone message left for the attorney for the property manager was not immediately returned.
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