Time for my next installment of the Holiday Hypothetical!
While making his rounds, Santa’s tummy started rumbling so he popped down to his favorite fast food place to grab a burger and fries. He parked the sled in the back of the parking lot and headed for the entrance when all of a sudden, his feet were flying up in the air and he landed with a thud. As he lay there looking up at the stars, he realized he was lying on a large patch of ice.
After further inspection, Santa noticed there was salt covering the ice and he was lying in a rut made by all the cars going through the drive-thru. The new fallen snow had been shoveled to the side, leaving only the ice.
Santa was quite angry and left without leaving presents for any of the employees. Before the sleigh left the ground he was already on the phone with his lawyer planning his revenge. Who can blame him, someone has to pay for all those presents.
Is the patch of ice a natural accumulation?
Plaintiff’s Attorney’s Perspective – Unnatural Accumulation
Santa’s attorney will sue the restaurant and the snow removal contractor. Santa knows everything there is to know about snow and ice and he will argue it was an unnatural accumulation because the area was shoveled and salted and the ice remained. It is obvious to everyone, even the reindeer, the snow contractor used salt in the area earlier, caused the snow to melt and then it re-froze when the temperature dropped that night.
In Illinois, to withstand summary judgment, the plaintiff has to show the origin of the ice was unnatural or created by the defendants. Branson v. R & L Investment, Inc., 196 Ill.App.3d 1088, 1094 (1990). Additionally, the cause of the unnatural accumulation or aggravated natural condition must be “identifiable.” Id.
Since the cause of the ice was the use of salt earlier in the day, Santa is confident he will win, even without threatening the judge with coal in his stocking.
Defense Attorney’s Perspective – Natural Accumulation
Defense counsel will do anything for her client, even if it means kicking Santa’s butt in court and never getting presents again. Fortunately for her, this is a slam dunk summary judgment, even in Cook County.
The restaurant will only be liable for the ice if it aggravated a natural condition or engaged in conduct which created a new, unnatural or artificial condition. Whittaker v. Honegger, 674 N.E.2d 1274 (1996).
Santa may know the North Pole but he clearly doesn’t understand how we roll in Illinois. In our neck of the woods, the mere sprinkling of salt, causing ice to melt, although it may later refreeze, does not aggravate a natural condition so as to form a basis for liability on the part of the property owner. Harkins v. System Parking, Inc., 542 N.E.2d 921 (1989). Furthermore, ruts and uneven surfaces created by traffic in snow and ice are not considered unnatural and cannot form the basis for liability. Harkins v. System Parking, Inc., 542 N.E.2d 921 (1989).
Sorry Santa, you gotta keep buying those presents yourself.
Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!