NEW CASELAW: Natural Accumulation

There is a new reported decision in Illinois regarding natural accumulation that is worth noting, Gore v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, 2021 IL App (3d) 210077.  The plaintiff slipped and fell on ice on the sidewalk of a gas station.  The plaintiff testified the parking area of the gas station was wet, but not icy, and the sidewalk appeared the same but once he stepped on the sidewalk he slipped and fell on ice.  According to the weather data, the high temperature that day was 15 degrees. 

According to one maintenance employee, he shoveled and/or salted the sidewalk in the early morning, if needed, and this would have been approximately 7-8 hours before the fall.  Another maintenance employee recalled salting the area of the fall, but he could not recall if he was before or after the fall took place.  There were four maintenance employees working at the gas station that day and they would have performed exterior walk-arounds at least three times a shift.  A photograph was taken of the fall area and it showed there was salt on the ground.  The company policy was to remove snow and ice as needed to maintain bare pavement as weather permits.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment arguing the plaintiff fell because of a natural accumulation of ice and it did not have actual or constructive notice of the ice before the fall.  The plaintiff argued the defendant undertook to remove the snow and ice and violated the corporate policy.  The trial court granted summary judgment finding the ice was a natural accumulation, the defendant did not assume a duty to remove natural accumulations of ice, the defendant was not liable for violating an internal policy and the defendant did not have actual or constructive notice of the ice.

The appellate court three of the four rulings by the trial court, but it did not discuss notice.  The following is the case law cited in support of each ruling:

Natural Accumulation

While there is generally no duty to remove natural accumulations of ice and snow, a defendant who voluntarily undertakes to remove snow or ice from its property owes a duty of reasonable care and may be subject to liability if its snow and ice removal is performed negligently. Jordan v. Kroger Co., 2018 IL App (1st) 180582, ¶ 20; Tzakis v. Dominick’s Finer Foods, Inc., 356 Ill. App. 3d 740, 746 (2005). That some ice remains after the defendant’s removal efforts does not constitute negligence. See Tzakis, 356 Ill. App. 3d at 746.

Voluntary Undertaking

Under the voluntary undertaking theory, the plaintiff must present evidence that the defendant’s snow or ice removal efforts created an unnatural accumulation of ice or snow. See Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Management Services, Inc., 2016 IL 120394, ¶ 22; Jordan, 2018 IL App (1st) 180582, ¶¶ 31-35; Wells v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 171 Ill. App. 3d 1012, 1018 (1988). Where the plaintiff fails to present evidence that the ice on which he fell was an unnatural accumulation caused by the defendant, summary judgment for the defendant is proper. See Jordan, 2018 IL App (1st) 180582, ¶¶ 35, 41; Wells, 171 Ill. App. 3d at 1015.

Internal Policies Do Not Create A Duty

A duty is not created by a defendant’s self-imposed rules or guidelines. See Rhodes v. Illinois Central Gulf R.R., 172 Ill. 2d 213, 238 (1996); Fichtel v. Board of Directors of the River Shore of Naperville Condominium Ass’n, 389 Ill. App. 3d 951, 959-60 (2009); Shank v. Fields, 373 Ill. App. 3d 290, 296-97 (2007); Wade v. City of Chicago, 364 Ill. App. 3d 773, 781 (2006); see also Fillpot v. Midway Airlines, Inc., 261 Ill. App. 3d 237, 244 (1994) (airline’s policy manual did not create a duty to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice).