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Are Public Recreational Facilities Liable for Slip and Falls Due to Snow and Ice?

Written by Ankin Law Office

Winter is right around the corner. Snow and ice will soon be blocking the sidewalks, parking lots, and roadways, often time causing slip and fall accidents. But what happens if you slip and fall due to snow and ice accumulation on another person’s property?

Under the theory of premises liability, property owners and managers are required to keep their property safe and free from hazards. The failure to do so can result in liability for any injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident on the property. Last year, we reported that the Illinois Appellate Court held in Hornacek v. 5th Avenue Property Management, in Illinois, a property owner can only be held liable for slip and fall injuries sustained if the property owner aggravated the natural accumulation of ice, snow, or water was unnatural. In other words, a property owner will not be liable for the failure to remove natural accumulations of snow or ice. If, however, the landowner or a hired contractor creates an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice, then liability may attach as a result of failing to use ordinary care.

Moreover, as we described in this post, the Illinois Natural Accumulation Rule & the Snow and Ice Renewal Act of 2005 states that the natural accumulations of snow and ice should give property owners comfort knowing that they can shovel without the worry of a lawsuit. If there is a defect on your property, however, such as a cracked rainspout creating a large unnatural accumulation of ice, you could be liable if someone falls and injures themselves.

But what happens if the property on which the slip and fall accident occurs is a publicly-owned facility?

In Moore v. Chicago Park District, the Illinois Supreme Court recently held that publicly-owned recreational facilities have broad immunity from liability to users who fall on snow or ice. In this case, three inches of snow had fallen and the Chicago Park District had taken several measures to move the snow and nice. The Park District had plowed the parking lot, and shoveled and salted the sidewalk.

As a result of the Park District’s actions, a small pile of snow had gathered at the edge of the parking lot. A woman fell on this pile of snow, broke her leg, and later died as a result of brain damage suffered due to complications during surgery to repair the leg.

The decedent’s representative brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the Chicago Park District under the theory of premises liability, but the Illinois Supreme Court ultimately held that the Park District could not be held liable pursuant to Section 3-106 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. Section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act holds that provides that “Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury where the liability is based on the existence of a condition of any public property intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes,” except in cases of willful and wanton conduct.

The Court rejected plaintiff’s argument that the decedent was injured by the activities of the employees operating the snow plow, as opposed to the snow itself and noted that its decision supported the Tort Immunity Act’s purpose of encouraging the maintenance and development of public recreational areas.

Categories: Premises Liability