Premises liability resulting from snowfalls

Serving Waukegan, Libertyville, Lake County, Gurnee & nearby areas of Illinois

With the recent winter weather, our firm receives a number of questions about slip, trip and fall accidents. When is the property owner or occupant liable? What responsibilities does a homeowner or business owner have to those who might visit the property? Under Illinois’ Premises Liability Act, the duty owed to entrants is that of "reasonable care under the circumstances." That phrase is very vague and can be interpreted in many ways.

Rather than defining what constitutes reasonable care, the Illinois legislature chose instead to list those things which do not violate the law. Specifically, the duty of "reasonable care under the circumstances" does not include:
- A duty to warn of or otherwise take reasonable steps to protect entrants from conditions on the premises that are known to the entrant, are open and obvious, or can reasonably be expected to be discovered by the entrant
- A duty to warn of latent defects or dangers or defects or dangers unknown to the owner or occupier of the premises
- A duty to warn entrants of any dangers resulting from misuse by the entrants of the premises or anything affixed to or located on the premises
- A duty to protect entrants from their own misuse of the premises or anything affixed to or located on the premises.
An owner of property is not an insurer against accidents occurring on the premises and an owner’s liability must be predicated upon negligence. Damages due to the negligent maintenance of property give rise to a cause of action against the party in control and possession of the premises, regardless of whether they are the actual owner. The possessor of the premises must have either actual or constructive notice of the dangerous or hazardous condition to be held liable.

Does a property owner have to shovel their snow? In Illinois, absent a local ordinance to the contrary, the answer is no. (Be sure to check with the City you live in to find out if snow removal is mandatory.) Generally, property owners have no obligation to remove natural accumulations of snow, ice or water. However, if the possessor of the property elects to remove snow, they must do so in a safe manner which protects those who enter the property. Negligently shoveling a sidewalk or entry way and thereby creating unnatural accumulations of snow, ice or water can result in liability.