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CHICAGO — Years ago, you had a perfect excuse for not shoveling your snowy sidewalk: You weren’t liable if someone slipped because you didn’t cause the slippery conditions.
And what about now? Well, in Chicago, that “natural accumulation” doesn’t hold up anymore.
The topic of “who’s liable for slippery, snowy sidewalk accidents” reared its head at a protest outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home Tuesday, of all places.
Protesters had taken to Emanuel’s home but were confined by police to the sidewalk, which had not been shoveled. The group mocked Emanuel for not shoveling his snow, and one protester said he slipped on the ice and called an ambulance to the scene, as others said they should sue Emanuel for the slippery conditions outside his home.
But there is no little legal recourse for people who slip on unshoveled sidewalks, because state courts have continually upheld the “natural accumulation” law that says homeowners can’t be held liable because they didn’t put the snow there.
And what if a protester slipped on Emanuel’s freshly shoveled sidewalk? Thanks to a city ordinance, the person would have no standing to sue, according to experts and a review of city and state laws.
Ever since that “natural accumulation” precedent was known to Chicagoans, many sidewalks became impassable, because residents knew they weren’t responsible for the snowfall and so had no legal obligation to remove it. That meant the city had a problem on its hands, said Francis Patrick Murphy, a partner at Corboy & Demetrio, a leading personal injury law firm in the city.
“Nobody came out [to shovel],” Murphy said. “CDOT would plow and people walked in the roadway. It wasn’t safe.”