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Monday, October 29, 2012

Park District Has Immunity for Snow Removal Activities

A participant in a park district class was injured stepping over a pile of snow in a park district parking lot that had accumulated because of recent plowing by the district.  She suffered complications in surgery to repair a fractured femur, and her estate sued the district under various causes of action.  The park district argued it was immune from the suit based on section 3-106 of the Illinois Tort Immunity Act.  That statute protects a local public entity such as the park district from liability where an injury is incurred based on the "existence of a condition of any public property intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes."  The trial court and appellate court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, finding that an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice was not a "condition of any public property" as referenced in the Tort Immunity Act.  The park district appealed and the Illinois Supreme Court reversed, finding in favor of the park district in Moore v. Chicago Park District, 2012 IL 112788 (October 18, 2012).

The Court first determined that section 3-105 of the Tort Immunity Act did not apply to this situation.  That section states that a local public entity has no duty to remove natural accumulations of ice and snow but requires the public body to exercise due care if it does undertake snow-removal operations. The Court held that whether the condition was natural or unnatural is irrelevant under section 3-106 (the recreational purposes section).  The question for the Court was whether the existence of snow and ice was a "condition" of the property that would provide the park district with immunity.  The Court answered yes, finding that it was the snowy and icy condition of the parking lot that caused the decedent's injury, not the park district's actions in shoveling and plowing snow.  The "condition" need not be a permanent element or "affixed to the property" in any way to provide immunity.  The Court also noted that its holding was consistent with the statute's purpose -- to encourage the development and maintenance of parks rather than to divert those funds to pay damages claims stemming from the resulting condition of the public property.

Justices Kilbride and Freeman dissented, arguing that the majority's decision expands immunity beyond what the legislature intended. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink.


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