People who know a little bit (emphasis on “little”) about the law on falls on snow and ice believe that from a liability standpoint, they are better off not doing anything to salt or shovel their walk because you cannot be liable for failing to salt or shovel their walk, but they can be liable if they do a bad job.
At best only half of that statement is true. There is no liability for failing to salt or shovel your walk to remove a “natural accumulation” of snow or ice.
What’s a natural accumulation?
The law makes that hard to tell sometimes, but as a general proposition, if there is snow or ice on your property from weather conditions, it is natural, but if it is there because of a defect or feature of the property, it may be unnatural. There is no liability for “natural accumulations” but there can be liability for “unnatural accumulations.”
And if you want to hear more about “natural” and “unnatural accumulations,” you should either tune in the Saturday at 6 AM on WIND AM-1160 Chicago or at 8 AM on WIND AM-560 Chicago, or just check out this video.
This is where the people who know a “little bit” about this area of the law want to act smart – “See, if you do bad job, you can get sued, but if you don’t do anything, you are safe!” This also has the extra added bonus of giving them a reason to not engage in the cold, break-breaking work of shoveling snow, but that is a rant for another day ….
Here is the truth: Illinois has a statute called the Snow and Ice Removal Act which immunizes residential homeowners from liability for negligence in efforts at clearing snow and ice. The only thing you can be liable for is “willful and wanton conduct” which is a type of aggravated conduct which borders on intentional harm. Not what you see out of people who shovel their walk.
Moral of the story: people who use liability as a justification to not shovel their walk really don’t know what they are talking about.
Good neighbors shovel their walks. Be a good neighbor.