Illinois Bar Journal

May 2017Volume 105Number 5Page 39

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Tort

From the Newsletters - High Court Limits Liability Limits

Landowners are protected by statute against suits for negligent snow removal, but the liability shield doesn't extend to everything snow and ice related, the Illinois Supreme Court rules.

"A winter's tale - Snow liability and construction law"
By Nathan Hinch
Building Knowledge - April 2017

Under Illinois common law, landowners don't have a duty to remove snow and ice from, say, the sidewalk in front of the house. But if they do decide to clear the walk and bungle the job, they can be sued by someone who slips and is injured because of their negligence.

To give landowners extra protection and encourage them to clear their sidewalks, Illinois legislators passed the Snow and Ice Removal Act. It protects owners from lawsuits unless their snow removal efforts are willfully or wantonly negligent.

But suppose the plaintiff slips on ice formed by the landowner's leaky gutter, not a subpar shoveling job. Does the Act protect the owner in that case?

No, said the Illinois Supreme Court recently in Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Management Services, Inc., 2016 IL 120394. In so ruling, the court resolved a split in the Illinois Appellate Court, reports Nathan Hinch in the April issue of Building Knowledge, newsletter of the ISBA Construction Law Section.

"[Murphy-Hylton confirms] that the Snow and Ice Removal Act does not automatically shield building owners and contractors from liability for negligence related to snow and ice," Hinch writes. "If the allegations do not arise from a natural accumulation, and instead allege some other negligent act by the defendant caused plaintiff's injuries, then the common law standard for such a negligence claim is still the law in Illinois. The mere fact that snow or ice is involved does not automatically trigger immunity under the Act!"

This ruling doesn't guarantee victory for plaintiffs, of course, as Hinch notes. "[B]ut it will make it more difficult for defendants to dismiss these claims or prevail on summary judgment quickly and cost-effectively," he writes.

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