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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Two Recent Cases Address Municipality's Duty in Slip/Trip and Fall Cases

Two recent appellate decisions provide some guidance to Illinois local governments on "slip and fall"  or "trip and fall" lawsuits against public bodies.

In the first case, the Second District ruled in favor of a municipality in a case involving a slip and fall on an allegedly unnatural accumulation of ice. Knuth (the plaintiff) had just started working as a salesman at a car dealership located next to a Village water tower. At the end of his shift, Knuth went to the back of the car dealership property to make sure all the car doors were locked. The dealership property line meets the gravel walkway to the water tower. Knuth claimed he slipped on ice “in or near the area where the asphalt pavement ends and the gravel walkway surface commences.” 

Both parties hired experts to determine if snow on top of the water tower melted and subsequently froze (snow-migration theory) or if the downward slope of the tower to the dealership caused the unnatural accumulation of ice (water-migration theory). The Village argued it had no duty to monitor and remediate accumulations of snow and ice on neighboring properties. The Village alternatively argued it had immunity under sections 2-109 and 2-201 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employee Tort Immunity Act, which immunize the discretionary actions of government employees. Specifically, the Village argued that any preventative measures to remove snow from the water tower or warning the dealership that snow could blow onto its property would still require a Village employee to exercise discretion in determining whether such a policy is appropriate and if so, the means and methods of carrying out such a program.

Ultimately, the appellate court ruled in favor of the Village, finding that there was insufficient evidence that the Village's actions caused plaintiff's fall.  Knuth v. Village of Antioch, et al., 2017 IL App (2d) 160961-U.

The second case involved another slip and fall - this time on a street. Lewis v. City of Chicago, 2017 IL App (1st) 16-1888-U. This case provides a pretty thorough analysis into the Tort Immunity Act and various exceptions. 

Lewis was exiting a CTA bus when he stepped into pothole, injuring his ankle. According to the case, the bus stopped one foot away from the curb, and Lewis exited the rear exit of the bus as opposed to the exit near the driver. The pothole that Lewis stepped in was not in a crosswalk and was half covered by the bus, so Lewis could not see the pothole until he was on the ground. 

The City argued it was immune under Section 3-102 of the Tort Immunity Act because Lewis was not an intended and permitted user of the street. The appellate court agreed, finding that since Lewis was outside of the crosswalk when he fell into the pothole and injured his ankle, he was not an intended user of the street. Courts have made it clear in numerous cases that streets are intended for vehicular traffic and not by pedestrians, meaning there is no duty owed to pedestrians who attempt to cross streets outside of the crosswalk. In fact, courts have repeatedly held that no duty exists for a municipality when a pedestrian exits a city bus onto a street instead of onto the curb or sidewalk. Thus, the Courts continue providing immunity even when pedestrians, for a variety of reasons, encounter difficulties requiring them to walk on the street outside of the cross walk.

Post Authored by Christy Michaelson, Ancel Glink


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