The Illinois Supreme Court has put the freeze on certain
slip-and-fall suits, by affirming an appellate ruling that the
Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act
immunizes homeowners against suits arising from
weather-caused slippery sidewalks, but not from ice buildup caused by negligent
The Dec. 1 opinion was penned by Justice Mary Jane Theis.
Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier concurred, as did Justices Charles Freeman, Robert
Thomas, Rita Garman, Thomas Kilbride and Anne Burke.
Pamela Murphy-Hylton filed a personal injury suit in June
2011 in Cook County Circuit Court against Klein Creek Condominium Association
and Lieberman Management Services, which managed the condominium property.
Klein Creek is in Carol Stream. Lieberman has offices in Chicago and Elk Grove
On Feb. 7, 2011, a landscaping service hired by the
association, cleared snow and ice from sidewalks of the Klein Creek complex.
Murphy-Hylton, who owned and lived in a unit at Klein Creek, said that 11 days
later she was making her way on a sidewalk, when she slipped on unseen ice and
fell, breaking her hip, leg and knee.
Murphy-Hylton alleged defendants were negligent for allowing
water to run onto the sidewalk from nearby downspouts, which then froze,
forming an “unnatural accumulation” of ice. Murphy-Hylton further alleged the
association violated construction and maintenance codes, by allowing the
sidewalk to be lower than adjacent ground, which caused water to puddle on the
Defendants moved for summary judgment, citing the Illinois
Snow and Ice Removal Act of 1979. The Act confers immunity on residential
property owners, in cases in which a pedestrian claims injury from negligent
snow and-or ice removal efforts. The suit was dismissed on this basis in
circuit court. Plaintiff next went to First District Appellate Court of
Illinois, which reversed the lower court’s ruling. Defendants then appealed to
the Illinois Supreme Court.
The state high court backed the appellate decision,
observing the appellate court made its decision for the “simple reason that
plaintiff’s complaint does not contain any allegations of negligence relating
to snow or ice removal efforts.”
The supreme court noted the purpose of the Act is to
encourage residential property owners to clear “natural accumulations” of snow
and ice from their walkways – an action they have no duty to perform – so as to
“To hold otherwise would create an unreasonable burden of
vigilance when considering that snowstorms cannot be foreseen or controlled and
recognizes the ‘climactic vagaries of this area with its unpredictable
snowfalls and frequent temperature changes,’” Justice Theis noted, partly
quoting a 1983 ruling by the Third District Appellate Court of Illinois.
Theis noted defendants tried to stretch the Snow and Ice
Removal Act to go beyond snow shoveling to downspout run-off. In doing so,
defendants pointed to the Second District Appellate Court of Illinois’ 2014
ruling in Ryan v. Glen Ellyn Raintree Condominium Association. That ruling said
the Act did not differentiate sources of snow or ice accumulation in providing
However, Theis found the Ryan ruling clashed with the “plain
language of the Act.” Theis further said defendants’ contention would “turn the
purpose for the immunity on its head,” by rewarding those who do not keep their
premises in “reasonably safe condition.”
The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association filed a
friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of plaintiff. The Illinois Association of
Defense Trial Counsel filed the same type of brief in support of defendants.
Murphy-Hylton has been represented by the Chicago firm of
Kralovec, Jambois & Schwartz. Lieberman Management and Klein Creek have
been defended by Grant, Fanning & Olsen, of Chicago.