Illinois winters can be brutal. Along with the cold, snowfall, and ice comes a risk of serious injuries from falls. Every year more than 800,000 people are hospitalized with severe fall injuries like head trauma, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, back injuries, knee damage, sprains, or a broken arm, wrist, leg, or hip. If you are a senior citizen or an individual with mobility challenges, you are especially at high risk for life-threatening injuries should you slip on ice.When owners allow dangerous conditions to exist on their property, they may be liable, meaning responsible, if the condition leads to injuries.
Business owners and homeowners are required to keep their properties as safe as they reasonably can, both inside and out. When ice and snow accumulate, dangerous conditions arise. Black ice can be especially hazardous. When owners allow dangerous conditions to exist on their property, they may be liable, meaning responsible, if the condition leads to injuries.
Medical bills for common injuries from falls can be expensive. According to the CDC, the medical costs for falls in 2015 came to a total of $50 billion. If you fall on an icy sidewalk or walkway, or inside on slick floors leads to severe injuries, can you expect compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain, and disability?
Under the legal doctrine of premises liability, commercial establishments are responsible for keeping their property safe from defects and dangerous conditions that could cause injuries. This obligation, or duty of care, means they must do everything reasonably possible to create hazard-free environments. Does this duty extend to keeping walkways, driveways, parking lots, and other common areas clear of ice and snow? The answer is more complicated than you’d expect.
Property owners are generally not responsible for injuries that occur as a result of a “natural accumulation of snow or ice”. What is the legal definition of a natural accumulation? Once again, the answer to this question is complicated and has been the subject of much litigation in Illinois courts. In short, if precipitation occurs, and the landowner does not take steps to remove snow or ice, the landowner is generally not responsible. How can this be? This is counter-intuitive I know. The rationale behind this rule is that Illinois winter weather is so brutal, that it would be too burdensome on property owners to impose liability on them.
There are many exceptions to this rule. Most of these exceptions kick in once the property owner takes steps to remove snow or ice. If the property owner takes steps to remove ice or snow, he has a duty to exercise reasonable care when doing so. Some people have contractual obligations to remove snow or ice and are therefore not protected by the natural accumulation rule. Think snow removal companies. In addition, the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations can be fact-specific. For example, if stairs violate the building code and do not have handrails, the property owner can’t get off the hook if someone slips on ice while using the stairs. Other exceptions can be found if one knows where to look. For example, a patch of ice that formed after dripping from a clogged gutter is not a natural accumulation.
Long story short, this area of law is particularly fact-specific. You should consult with an attorney to find out where you stand and what course of action you can take.
- If you get hurt due to a property owner’s negligence, you have a right to be compensated for your damages. These damages usually include:
Medical and chiropractic bills
- Out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions, crutches, bandages, etc.
- Lost wages, including sick days and vacation time used during recovery
- Pain and suffering
Unless you fell on government property, your injury claim will normally be made to the property owner’s insurance company. When you’re hurt from slipping on ice or snow, it may seem obvious to you that the property owner was negligent, but the insurance company won’t take your word for it. It is up to you to convince the insurance company their insured was to blame for your injuries. You’ll need to collect strong evidence to support a successful insurance claim or injury lawsuit.
Photographs and Video:
Use your cell phone to take pictures of the icy area where you fell. Take as many pictures as possible, including video footage. Try to capture a panoramic view, including the adjoining property where ice and snow were already cleared away. You want to make sure there’s little doubt the slippery condition exists. If you are able, take pictures of the accident scene. If your injuries make that impossible, ask someone to take pictures for you. It is important to document the conditions that existed at the time of your fall. The ice and snow will probably be gone within hours, either removed by the property owner or from melting. Once the ice is gone, you’ve lost the opportunity to gather important visual evidence for your injury claim.
Gather witness statements from anyone who saw you slip on ice and fall, or who can verify the dangerous icy conditions that led to your injury. Friends and family members can provide a statement, but independent witnesses are even better. Ask all your witnesses to write down how they saw you fall and describe the icy conditions. Have them write down their impressions of the pain you suffered when you fell. They can use any piece of paper available. Be sure they sign and date their statement.
The final piece of evidence to link your injuries directly to the property owner’s negligence are your medical charts and records of treatment. Medical records are vital. They create the link between the slip and fall and your injury. It’s important to prove the slippery condition was the direct and proximate cause of your injury. Without your doctor’s written diagnosis directly linking your injuries to the fall, the property owner’s insurance company can challenge your claim. Be sure to tell every medical provider who treats your injuries exactly when, where, and how you slipped and fell on ice or snow. It’s important for the cause of your injuries to be included in your medical records.
Why Consult With An Attorney?There’s just too much at stake to try handling high-dollar claims on your own. Don’t let the insurance company call the shots.
If the property owner won’t give you their insurance information, you were injured on government property, or your claim is otherwise complicated, you’ll need an experienced personal injury attorney to get the compensation you deserve. “Hard” injuries, like spinal cord injuries, brain damage, or injuries involving permanent disability or disfigurement are complicated, high-dollar claims. Insurance companies are known for offering lower settlements to claimants who aren’t represented by an attorney. The insurance company doesn’t care what happens to you or your family.
There’s just too much at stake to try handling high-dollar claims on your own. Don’t let the insurance company call the shots. There’s no cost to find out what a skilled fall attorney can do for you. Many slip and fall victims can have a lengthy and painful road to recovery with overwhelming medical expenses, loss of wages, and/or permanent disability.
Contact A Personal Injury Attorney
If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident, there are various laws that can help you or a deceased victim’s family receive compensation. Please contact Palermo Law Group at (630)684-2332 for a free consultation with nationally recognized personal injury lawyer, Mario Palermo, regarding the best approach to obtaining compensation for your injuries.