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Russell v. Village of Lake Villa

December 30, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 00-L-34 Honorable John R. Goshgarian, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kapala


Plaintiff, Richard Russell, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Lake County granting summary judgment to the defendant, the Village of Lake Villa (the Village). For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand the cause for further proceedings.


At 7 a.m. on January 18, 1999, plaintiff, Richard Russell, was rushing to catch the Metra commuter train that left from Lake Villa en route to Chicago when he slipped on a patch of ice in that portion of the train station that was owned and maintained by the defendant Village. His slip on the ice caused him to fall and become injured. At the place where he slipped on the ice, the surface consisted of brick pavers under an overhang. A parking lot with handicapped spaces was adjacent. Employees of the Village had plowed snow in the parking lot and piled it over the curbing for the handicapped slots. Photographs show the snow pile to be in close proximity to the brick pavers, with some of it actually on the pavers and with ice having formed in the parking lot and on the pavers around the base of the snow mound. Employees of the Village were supposed to keep the pavers and walkways free from snow and ice and were instructed to salt the pavers whenever they saw a condition of ice or snow. Glen McCollum, the Village's director of public works, inspected the train station every day, inside and outside, most likely including the day plaintiff fell and was injured. McCollum himself also plowed the parking lot near the handicapped spaces. According to McCollum, the Village owned the area covered by the pavers where plaintiff slipped on the ice, while Metra owned and maintained a concrete platform from which people boarded and exited the trains. He also testified that the snow pile depicted in the photographs could have been a "combined effort" between the Village and Metra because Metra needed to clean its platform and he did not know where Metra put its snow, although McCollum ususally was the one who plowed where the mound of snow was piled. That Metra may have blown its snow onto the pile was an "assumption" on his part.

According to plaintiff, at the time he slipped on the ice, the morning was "pretty cold." He did not recall any recent snows. He did not remember whether any water was dripping or whether there was any water on the ground where he slipped. He knew he slipped on a patch of ice on the pavers where the ice formed an apron at the base of the mound of snow that had been plowed and piled over the handicapped parking curbings. Although plaintiff did not see snow melting from that mound, in looking at a photograph taken the day after his injury, he testified at his deposition that it seemed "clear" to him that "the ice got there as a result of the snow melting in liquid form and then being frozen as the temperature lowered." He testified that the days were warm and the nights were below freezing. McCollum, at his deposition, looked at the photograph and testified that the mound was not from a new snow event and that it appeared as though the ice had formed from snow melting off that mound. He also testified that, as a general proposition, he was aware that snow could melt and form ice when it refroze and could, therefore, cause a dangerous condition in the walkways.

The Village brought a motion for summary judgment on the sole basis that the accumulation of ice upon which plaintiff slipped and which caused him to be injured was a natural accumulation. The trial court granted the Village's motion and denied plaintiff's motion to reconsider. Plaintiff timely appeals from the denial of his motion to reconsider.


Plaintiff first contends on appeal that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because, he asserts, the trial court was presented with a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the accumulation of ice was an unnatural condition, which would foist liability on the Village. We agree with plaintiff.

We review de novo a grant of summary judgment. County of Lake v. Board of Education of Lake Bluff School District No. 65, 325 Ill. App. 3d 694, 698 (2001). Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, depositions, and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Grobe v. Hollywood Casino--Aurora, Inc., 325 Ill. App. 3d 710, 715 (2001). If fair-minded people could draw different inferences from the undisputed facts, summary judgment should not be granted. Grobe, 325 Ill. App. 3d at 715. Summary judgment is a drastic means of resolving litigation and should be allowed only when the moving party's right to judgment is clear and free from doubt. Elizondo v. Ramirez, 324 Ill. App. 3d 67, 71 (2001). The aim of summary judgment is not to try issues, but to determine whether any triable issues of fact exist. Aetna Casualty & Surety Company of Illinois v. James J. Benes & Associates, Inc., 229 Ill. App. 3d 413, 416 (1992).

We point out that the Village does not dispute that the ice patch was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. The Village casts the issue as follows: what caused the ice? The Village maintains that plaintiff has presented an insufficient factual basis in the record to establish a material issue of fact that would entitle him to a judgment in his favor, namely, that there is a nexus between the snow and the ice. See Romano v. Morrisroe, 326 Ill. App. 3d 26, 28 (2001). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to construe all evidentiary material strictly against the movant and liberally in favor of the non-movant. Tolve v. Ogden Chrysler Plymouth, Inc., 324 Ill. App. 3d 485, 489 (2001). Plaintiff insists that he has established that there is a nexus between the pile of snow that the Village plowed and the ice upon which he slipped. See Crane v. Triangle Plaza, Inc., 228 Ill. App. 3d 325, 331 (1992). He, therefore, argues that the ice was an unnatural accumulation.

Before we get to this analysis, we will set forth a property owner's duty generally. A property owner has no duty to remove a natural accumulation of snow and ice from his property; however, a property owner who voluntarily undertakes the removal of snow and ice can be subjected to liability where the removal results in an unnatural accumulation of snow or ice that causes injury to a plaintiff. Nowak v. Coghill, 296 Ill. App. 3d 886, 893 (1998). In the present case, the Village of Lake Villa owned the property where plaintiff slipped, and it undertook to remove snow and ice from that property.

A mound of snow created by a municipality's snow-removal efforts is properly considered an unnatural accumulation. Ziencina v. County of Cook, 188 Ill. 2d 1, 13 (1999). McCollum testified in his deposition that he and other Village employees plowed the parking lot and piled the snow on the curbings. The photographs depict some of the piled snow on the pavers. We determine that plaintiff has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the snow pile was an unnatural accumulation. It is plaintiff's contention that the logical inferences to be drawn from his evidence are that snow melted off the mound, puddled, and refroze, forming the ice patch that caused plaintiff to slip. These inferences are buttressed by McCollum's testimony that he was aware that snow could melt and form ice when it refroze. Plaintiff reasons that, since the mound of snow was an unnatural accumulation put there by employees of the Village, the ice was an unnatural accumulation as well. In response, defendant argues that plaintiff did not establish the ice's origin.

Plaintiff relies on the Appellate Court, Fifth District, case of Johnson v. National Super Markets, Inc., 257 Ill. App. 3d 1011 (1994). In that case the plaintiff was injured when she fell on an ice-encrusted puddle of water in a grocery store parking lot. The evidence presented to the jury was that snow in the parking lot had been plowed and piled 10 to 15 feet high around the light posts. When the plaintiff got out of her car to go into the store, she saw that water in the puddle was coming from a mound of snow heaped against a nearby light post. Johnson, 257 Ill. App. 3d at 1012. By the time she left the store and returned to her car, the ice had formed over the puddle. The plaintiff's mother testified that water was streaming from the snow into the puddle. Johnson, 257 Ill. App. 3d at 1013. The private contractor who plowed the snow testified that the grade of the parking lot sloped down toward the building and the safest place to pile the snow would have been at the sides of the building, where it would drain into the back of the property rather than collecting in the parking lot. The store owner, however, instructed him not to pile the snow at the sides of the building. Johnson, 257 Ill. App. 3d at 1014. The jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff's favor, and the defendant appealed from the trial court's denial of its motion for judgment ...

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