Under Illinois law, a landowner is not liable for injuries sustained by plaintiffs who slipped on water that is tracked into a building from natural accumulations of substances outside such as ice, snow or water. Swartz v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 264 Ill. App. 3d 254, 265 (1st Dist. 1993); Lohan v. Walgreens Co., 140 Ill. App. 3d 171, 173-74 (1st Dist. 1986). A landowner has no duty to protect others from tracked-in water even if aware that the presence of water has resulted in a dangerous condition. Nor will a voluntary undertaking to remove tracked-in water or minimize the hazard posed by it create such a duty unless these efforts exacerbate the danger. Instead, a landowner will only be held liable if the plaintiff’s “injury occurred as a result of water produced or accumulated by artificial causes or in an unnatural way or by defendant’s own use of the area concerned and creation of the condition.” Swartz, 264 Ill. App. 3d at 265, citing Walker v. Chicago Transit Authority, 92 Ill. App. 3d 120, 122 (1980).
Illinois courts have applied an exception to the “natural accumulations” rule where a store owner, who generally has no duty to remove tracked-in water, can be liable if the plaintiff proves that “the material used in the flooring is especially slippery and dangerous when wet.” Lee v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 2001 WL 604189 at *6 (N.D. Ill. May 31, 2001), citing Buscaglia v. United States, 25 F.3d 530 (7th Cir. 1994) (recognizing exception that the composition of the floor, either by itself or in combination with an accumulation of water, could be basis for liability); Lohan, 140 Ill. App. 3d 171 (finding that store owners had no duty to remove tracked-in rainwater, absent allegations that materials used in the floor were particularly slippery and dangerous when wet); Sommese v. Maling Bro’s, Inc. 36 Ill. 2d 263, 266 (Ill. 1966) (holding “it was a jury question as to whether the defendant knew or should have known that the material used in the composition of the floor, upon becoming wet and damp, became very slippery and dangerous and that the defendant failed to warn the person lawfully on its premises of its unsafe condition).
In Lee, the plaintiff brought a negligence action after he slipped and fell on the tile inside the entrance door to a defendant-owned gasoline station/convenience market. 2001 WL 604189 at *1 (N.D. Ill. May 31, 2001). The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that it cannot be held liability based on the “natural accumulations” rule. The plaintiff’s expert, Mr. Eugene Holland, testified that the tile used, “which showed a borderline tendency between slipperiness and non-slipperiness, and the flat surface of the threshold itself, are hazardous to business invitees. Id. at *3. The court stated that although there “might not be liability if Defendant had a floor of common accepted design, as the case law shows, some slight direct evidence of a defect in flooring is enough to send the case to a jury.” Id., citing Tracy v. Village of Lombard, 116 Ill. App. 3d 563 (Ill. App. Ct. 1983). Accordingly, the court held the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence – “consisting mainly of expert testimony” – to fall under the exception to the natural accumulation rule, and denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Qualified personal injury lawyers in Chicago must become familiar with this case law before bringing an action arising out of a slip and fall on a wet surface. To survive a motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs must show, through expert testimony, that the flooring on which the plaintiff slipped and fell was made of a material, which became especially slippery and dangerous when wet. Therefore, preferably prior to filing a lawsuit, the personal injury lawyer should retain an expert to perform a “coefficient of friction test” on the tile flooring at issue.