CHICAGO -- An Illinois woman recently filed a complaint alleging that Wal-Mart's negligence during a December 2005 snowstorm led to a fall causing injuries worth more than $300,000.
The suit, filed on April 6 in the Circuit Court of Cook County by Barbara Bidiuk, charges Wal-Mart with failure to prevent an unnatural accumulation of ice in its parking lot, which allegedly led to the plaintiff's tumble and resulting injuries.
According to the suit, on Dec. 12, 2005, the plaintiff was walking from her parked vehicle to the storefront when she stumbled on a patch of "black ice" – allegedly caused by runoff from a nearby pile of shoveled snow.
The complaint asserts that as a result of the fall, Bidiuk struck her head and shoulder, and tore a tendon in her rotator cuff. As a result, the plaintiff incurred medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress.
Wal-Mart is specifically alleged to have breached a duty to its customers by failing to apply a de-icing agent to the entirety of its parking lot, and for failing to place shoveled snow in an area where it would melt without creating a hazard. Furthermore, the store allegedly failed to warn Bidiuk and other customers of the danger posed by its piles of removed snow.
Complaints such as this point to the difficulties that commercial property owners face each winter in avoiding liability for slip-and-falls.
Under Illinois law, a landowner is not liable for injuries resulting from the natural accumulation of snow, ice, and water. Nor is there any duty to remove such accumulations. However, if a plaintiff can show that the accumulation was "unnatural," liability may attach to the storeowner. Snow-related slip-and-falls usually turn on this distinction alone.
Nervous property owners are left, then, to wonder what they should and should not do to avoid liability during inclement weather. To make matters more confusing, the dutiful landowner that promptly shovels snow from its walkways may still be liable for injuries if that act adds to or creates a new hazard (as Bidiuk seems to allege against Wal-Mart).
Generally, mere snow removal that may leave natural ice formations on the premises does not constitute negligence under Illinois law. As long as the storeowner provides a reasonable means of exit and entry to its storefront, liability normally falls away even in spite of natural accumulations of snow and ice.
Bidiuk's complaint is typical of most snow and ice cases except for its monetary demand.
While the jurisdictional minimum for the Cook County law division is only $30,000, the plaintiff seeks ten times that amount in her initial complaint.
Bidiuk is represented by James L. DeVries, a solo practitioner based in Palos Hills, Ill.
Wal-Mart is represented by Smith Amundsen, LLC, a Chicago business litigation firm. The first hearing on Bidiuk's case will be heard on May 10 in the Circuit Court of Cook County.