Natural Accumulation Rule: Ice, Snow, Water

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Natural Accumulation Rule: Ice, Snow, Water

The June 2015 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal includes an article prepared by attorneys Jason Schutte and Eric Waldman that discusses the Natural Accumulation Rule as it applies to premises liability slip-and-fall cases. The article explores the rule and its exceptions, and includes a useful decision graphic that can assist readers in making an initial determination of whether a premises liability slip/fall case is likely to succeed.

 When I checked the AccessPlus® database of published cases, I found that we have reported numerous Cook County verdicts involving claims of unnatural accumulations that caused slip/fall injuries. Here are a few selected summaries.

Defense Verdict (Cook County):  Plaintiff slipped/fell on ice outside the exit of the women’s bathroom at Columbus Park (Chicago) where she participated in senior activities. Allegedly, plaintiff F-69 suffered a mild traumatic brain injury that caused cognitive impairments and gait ataxia. She claimed a defective gutter caused an unnatural accumulation of ice, and that the Chicago Park District was willful/wanton for not removing it. Defense maintained that the ice was a natural accumulation that it was not obligated to remove, and argued that plaintiff was more than 50% at fault since she admitted seeing the ice. The defense also contested the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. In answers to a special interrogatory, the jury found that the ice was a not an unnatural accumulation.

$150,823 Verdict (Cook County):  F-39 slipped/fell on an unnatural accumulation of rainwater that leaked from a window in the office suite of her employer. She sustained spinal damage that eventually required a lumbosacral laminectomy and fusion several years later. The window had been chronically leaking during heavy rain, but had been caulked three months earlier-before the leaking resumed two days before plaintiff fell. Defense argued that plaintiff knew the window was leaking, was at fault for failing to see the large puddle on the floor and water streaming down the wall. Defense further asserted that plaintiff’s spinal surgery was not fall-related.

Defense Verdict (Cook County):  Plaintiff was visiting family when she slipped on icy front steps and fractured her right ankle, necessitating ORIF surgery. Plaintiff F-54 claimed the owner allowed drainage from the roof and gutter onto the front stairs, causing an unnatural accumulation. Defense denied negligence, denied there was an unnatural accumulation of ice, and contended that plaintiff fell because she was wearing plastic bags inside her snow boots, which caused her foot to slip inside the boot.

$1,253,232 Verdict (Cook County):  Plaintiff M-42, a pilot for a regional airline, was disembarking from his plane when he slipped/fell on ice on the tarmac at O’Hare Airport. Defendant leases the terminal where the incident occurred. Plaintiff herniated a lumbar disc, which he claims prevents him from returning to work as a pilot due to pain when seated for extended periods of time. Allegedly, defendant owed a contractual duty to remove ice/snow from the pedestrian area where plaintiff was injured. The defendant argued this was a natural accumulation of ice (for which it was not liable), and insisted that plaintiff was contributorily negligent. The verdict was $1,740,600 less 28% for contributory negligence.

Defense Verdict (Cook County):  Plaintiff was walking in the parking lot of the building where she worked when she slipped/fell due to a patch of ice and fractured her right ankle (ORIF done). F-37 claims deft landscape firm provided snow removal, but negligently plowed snow into mounds, which melted and refroze, resulting in an unnatural accumulation. The defense insisted the ice patch was a natural accumulation, and asserted there was no corroboration to plaintiff’s allegations regarding how the snow had been plowed. Note that this case was later reversed and remanded based on jury instruction errors.

$89,673 Verdict (Cook County):  M-56 had parked his car in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot and was walking to the store when he slipped and fell on ice, fracturing his right leg. Allegedly, the company defendants had hired to plow snow had piled it in a parking space, where it melted then refroze, creating the patch where plaintiff fell. Defendants argued they took reasonable care of the parking lot, and that plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Plaintiff’s attorney reported that the case was tried on a negligence theory and the defense did not tender premises liability jury instructions.

 $80,000 Verdict (Cook County):  Plaintiff slipped and fell on ice while on the premises of defendant’s gas station in Munster, IN. Reportedly, there is no “natural accumulation” statute in IN. M-48 sustained a head injury that resulted in temporary loss of his senses of smell and taste-which he will never fully recover. Plaintiff argued there was no evidence that defendant’s employees had salted the premises or acted to ensure that the property was reasonably safe for customers. The defense contended the accumulation of ice was open/obvious, and that plaintiff was contributorily negligent. The verdict was $100,000 less 20% for contributory negligence.