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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Illinois Appellate Court Rules on Tort Immunity Case

In Dycus v. County of Edgar, Illinois, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in favor of the county in a case involving a motorcycle accident, finding that the Tort Immunity Act protected Edgar County from liability. 

In May 2018, the plaintiffs were riding their motorcycles on an Edgar County road. During their ride, the riders crashed and sustained injuries after encountering a road section that recently underwent repair to replace a culvert (a tunnel carrying a stream or drainage pipe). They sued the county arguing its actions amounted to negligence for failure to (1) repair the road, (2) inspect the road, and (3) post signs warning of road repair.

After months of litigation, the county asked the judge rule in its favor, arguing that the county was absolutely immune from liability under the Tort Immunity Act for not posting warning signage and its discretionary decisions in “improving, maintaining, repairing and inspecting the road” surrounding the culvert replacement. The county also argued that the plaintiffs were negligent as well. The circuit court found that the county was immune, and the plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued the Tort Immunity Act did not protect the county because the county failed to establish that its employees—tasked with road repair—made policy determinations and exercised discretion when performing work on the culvert, which injured the plaintiffs. 

The appellate court first looked at the specific language of the statute relied on by the circuit court in finding immunity:

the complained injuries must have resulted from the employee’s ‘act or omission in determining policy when acting in exercise of such discretion’. . .the act or omission giving rise to the injuries must be both a determination of policy and an exercise of discretion.

Here, the plaintiffs argued that the roadcrew and road engineer’s replacement of the culvert constituted a ministerial act and was not discretionary. The county, on the other hand, argued that its employees’ actions were discretionary based on the procedures established by the county engineer and the nature of replacing culverts. The Illinois Appellate Court agreed with the county, finding that the county engineer made discretionary decisions regarding the method, means, and material used for the culvert replacement. In addition, the roadcrew employees made discretionary decisions regarding the depth of gravel, number of layers, and the number of times to compact the gravel. As a result, these acts constituted discretionary acts, which shielded the county from liability under the Tort Immunity Act.

Post Authored by Mike Halpin & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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