Earlier this month, the highest court in Illinois issued a written opinion in a premises liability case requiring the court to interpret a statute that on its face grants immunity to property owners who are negligent in the removal of snow or ice on their land. In the case, Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Management Services, the court determined that the defendant apartment complex was not entitled to immunity because the plaintiffs did not allege negligence in the removal of the condition but instead negligence in otherwise maintaining the property.
The nuance in the court’s opinion is instructive to would-be personal injury plaintiffs in Maryland because the opinion shows how closely courts scrutinize legal arguments and how a dedicated advocate can greatly increase a plaintiff’s chance of success.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff lived in an apartment complex owned by the defendants in Carol Stream, Illinois. In February, 2011, a snow storm dropped over 20 inches of snow in Carol Stream. The defendant arranged for the snow and ice to be cleared from the premises, but 11 days after the storm, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a patch of ice behind her building on her way to the parking lot.
The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the complex owners, alleging that they were negligent in “failing to direct the drainage of water and melted snow on the premises, failing to repair defective sidewalks, and failing to repair downspouts to prevent an unnatural accumulation of ice on the sidewalk.”
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, pointing to a state law that grants immunity to landowners from lawsuits claiming that they were negligent in the clearing of snow or ice from their property. The trial court, taking a cursory look at the pleadings, agreed with the defendant and granted the motion, dismissing the case. The plaintiff appealed to a higher court.
On appeal, the plaintiff made a nuanced argument that her claim did not fall within the immunity statute because she was not claiming the defendant was negligent in clearing the snow and ice but that the defendant was negligent in how the property was designed. Specifically, she claimed that the property was poorly designed in that run off from melting snow could accumulate on footpaths, where it could freeze when temperatures later lowered.
The court agreed with the plaintiff, reversing the lower court’s dismissal of her claim. The court looked at the intent behind the immunity statute, determining that it was intended to limit liability to those who voluntarily made attempts – even negligent ones – to clear their property of snow. The example cited by the court was sidewalks. Thus, the court determined that this situation was outside the scope of the intended purpose of the immunity law, and the defendant should therefore not be granted immunity.
Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While the specific laws at issue in Maryland differ from those in Illinois, the above case illustrates the importance of creative, diligent, and experienced counsel. The skilled injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have decades of experience handling a wide array of personal injury cases, and they are confident that they can help you seek the compensation you deserve. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Establishing Liability after a Maryland or Washington, D.C. Car Accident, Maryland Accident Law Blog, November 14, 2016.
Court Holds Department of Motor Vehicles Is Not Liable in Car Accident Case, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 8, 2016.