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Friday, October 7, 2016

Bike Path was Not a Riding Trail Under Tort Immunity Act

Section 3-107(b) of the Illinois Tort Immunity Act states as follows:
neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of…any hiking, riding, fishing, or hunting trail.  745 ILCS 10/3-107(b).
This immunity is absolute even for willful and wanton conduct.  One of the questions courts have struggled with is how to determine if a bike path can be considered a riding trail under this statute, which would provide a local government entity absolute immunity. In Corbett v. The County of Lake, an appellate court addresses that question. 

Corbett was seriously injured while riding her bicycle on Old Skokie Bike Path in Lake County.  While riding with friends along the bike path, the person two bikes ahead of her hit a bump and lost control of his bicycle.  Corbett, with no place to go, rode over him and his bike, and was thrown off her bike, falling hard onto the paved surface. Corbett sued both Lake County and the City of Highland Park, claiming that they were both responsible for her injuries, and that Section 3-107(b) did not provide absolute immunity because the bike path is not a riding trail. The trial court ruled in favor of the City and County, finding absolute immunity under Section 3-107(b). Corbett appealed the judgment in favor of the City. 

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the ruling in favor of the City, rejecting the trial court's finding that the City was immune under Section 3-107(b). Specifically, the court determined that a bike or hiking path in the midst of an easily accessible developed area does not qualify as a riding trail under the statute, supporting its analysis as follows:
As a matter of law, this restriction defeats the City’s assertion that the path is a riding or hiking trail. No contention has been made that the path is located in a mountainous region (mountains being scarce in Lake County). No serious contention can be made that the path is located in a forest; no reasonable person who views the photographs of the path and its surroundings, or even reads their descriptions by those who have seen them, would describe those surroundings as a forest. The path is bordered by narrow bands of greenway that sport some shrubs and a few trees; these narrow bands are surrounded by industrial development, residential neighborhoods, parking lots, railroad tracks, and major vehicular thoroughfares (to the east and south of the area of the accident). The case for considering the path a riding trail would not succeed even if utility poles could be considered trees with power lines for branches. 
Post Authored by Amanda Riggs & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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