Our Chicago personal injury lawyers are always staying abreast of legal developments in our area of law. Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments in Krywin v. Chicago Transit Authority, a case concerning whether the “natural accumulation rule” — stating that persons may only recover for injuries sustained on unnatural accumulations of ice, snow, water — applies to common carriers (passenger transit services such as airlines, trains/railroads, and bus companies).
Generally, individual defendants and business owners owe plaintiffs a duty of reasonable care. Common carriers, however, generally have a heightened duty, or duty of “highest care” to ensure the safety of their passengers. This is because mass-transit systems, like airplanes, trains and buses are responsible for the safety of many thousands of members of the public. To speak with a top Chicago train accident attorney, call Passen & Powell at (312) 527-4500.
The natural accumulation rule is a bright-line test to determine whether someone may recover damages for injuries sustained in slip and falls caused by ice, snow or water. Under the rule, if a person is injured by snow and ice that accumulated naturally, she cannot recover for her injuries. The question for common carriers becomes: should they still be held to the heightened duty of care standard, or may they shield themselves from liability by clinging to the natural accumulation rule?
The Chicago premises liability lawyers of Passen & Powell join with others in urging the Illinois Supreme Court to reject this unreasonable shield for the negligence of Chicago’s transit agencies and companies.
The natural accumulation rule was constructed by the courts for ease of application. When the courts develop a hard-and-fast rule, they can then simply apply that rule to each case without delving into the particular facts and circumstances. In tort law, a defendant is liable if he owed a duty to the plaintiff, and breached that duty, causing injury. Generally, courts must weigh a number of factors to determine if the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, including: whether the injury was reasonably foreseeable, the likelihood of the injury, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury (for instance, how much would it cost), and the consequences of making the defendant guard against the injury.
Thus, when dealing with a plaintiff injured by accumulations of snow and ice, using general tort law the court would likely have to consider many of the following factors (among others): Should the defendant have foreseen that accumulations of snow and ice will cause hazards during the Chicago winter? How easy would it be for the defendant to keep the platforms clear of snow and ice? What means are available for doing so, and at what cost (spreading salt or sand, shoveling, covered platforms, stopping the train at a safer portion of the station, the use of treads on pedestrian surfaces)? Could the defendant have made the situation safe without compromising continued service? The natural accumulation rule relieves the courts from the burden of undertaking this analysis. Instead, they simply must determine whether the defendant did anything to make the situation worse. If not, then even if the defendant callously ignored a dangerous situation, the victim cannot be compensated for her injuries. The experienced Chicago Accident Attorneys of Passen & Powell know that this rule causes unfair results for the victims of negligence.
In Krywin, an elderly woman was injured when she slipped and fell on ice while exiting a CTA Red Line train on the southbound platform at Sheridan Road. Her fall resulted in a broken leg, surgery, and nearly a month in the hospital. Our attorneys have represented
She suffered from the pain of the accident and her recovery, as well as permanent disability and scarring. At trial, the court allowed a jury to hear the case, and the victim was awarded nearly $400,000 in damages. The Appellate Court of Illinois, First District reversed this award however, stating that because the victim was injured by a natural accumulation of ice and snow, the CTA bore no responsibility for the condition of its platforms.
As stated by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association in their brief in support of the Plaintiff’s appeal, the natural accumulation rule is “an amorphous creature, living within the confines of legal fiction, which apparently rises from an accumulation of snow or ice and lives just long enough to keep an injured plaintiff from reaching an open courthouse door.”
The natural accumulation rule certainly makes things easier for courts and defendants. However, the personal injury lawyers of Passen & Powell recognize that the rule creates unjust and disastrous consequences for those injured by the negligence of common carriers. Under the natural accumulation rule, a responsible transit agency who continually clears ice and snow and spreads salt during a Chicago blizzard is treated exactly the same as a company who lets the ice and snow from that storm sit untouched for weeks: both are not liable if a passenger should slip and fall.
This result is obviously unacceptable. In Chicago and the rest of Illinois, like many other places, large numbers of people rely on public transportation to get to and from work and to conduct their lives. The common carriers who transport these people, including Metra, the CTA, and the RTA, have a responsibility to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of their passengers – even during the notorious Chicago winter. We at Passen & Powell urge the Illinois Supreme Court not to take the easy way out, and to reject the natural accumulation rule, at the very least as to the common carriers of Illinois. When the rule is rejected, our experienced Chicago accident lawyers are ready to seek justice for those injured when negligence allows the Chicago winter to become hazardous.
For a free consultation with an experienced Illinois personal injury attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.