The Illinois Supreme Court reversed an appeals court decision in a personal injury action against the Chicago Park District after a bicyclist was injured while riding on the Lakefront Trail. Isaac Cohen brought a claim in a Cook County Court and a judge found that the district was immune from liability since the trail is for recreational usage. An Illinois First District Appeals Court reversed the decision prior to the case reaching the state Supreme Court, where Justice Anne Burke ruled in favor of the defendant. The Lakefront Trail is a path designed for walking, jogging, and bicycling that stretches 18 miles along Chicago's shoreline of Lake Michigan.
Cohen was riding his bicycle on the trail traveling south when his front tire sunk into a crack in the concrete surface. The crack was described as roughly three to four inches in width and two to three inches deep. Cohen fell to the ground and he incurred significant shoulder injuries. He then rode his bicycle home and did not inform the defendant of the accident. About one week later, he was riding along the path again and noticed the crack had been fixed.
The city adheres to an annual maintenance schedule for the trail beginning with an inspection in the spring. Necessary repairs are then sent to contractors for bids in a process considered a “rapid response” procurement, which is expedited. In this case, a park employee was notified of the crack along the trail and it was inspected and deemed to be in need of repair.
No efforts were taken to mark or prevent access to the crack along the trail, which was actually repaired three days after Cohen was injured. Cohen later brought a civil injury claim for failing to maintain safe surface conditions. The Cook County Court found that the city was protected from liability according to the Illinois Governmental Tort Immunity Act, which shields governmental entities. The court found that the government would not be liable because the trail is used for recreational purposes and also that they would only be liable if it were proven that the defendant demonstrated “willful or wanton” disregard for safety.
The appeals court next reversed the lower court ruling explaining that the city was not protected from liability based on their interpretation of the statutes. They felt that the Lakefront Trail was not one that would be classified as purely recreational, which applies to primitive and undeveloped recreational areas rather than paved trailways. In addition, the court felt the lower court's summary judgment was improper because it could not be proven whether the defendant's conduct was “willful or wanton” in nature.
The Supreme Court explained that the region's climate inevitably results in the development of holes and cracks within concrete surfaces. They deemed the crack to present an injury risk, yet not one that presented a particularly uncommon or extraordinarily risk or danger. No other injuries were previously reported resulting from the crack. The defendant took reasonable actions to correct the problem after it was reported by inspecting it and having it repaired according to their procedures.
The plaintiff stated that the defendant could have taken more cautious action by placing a temporary barrier to warn those approaching or to create a temporary means of filling the crack. The court did not find the defendant's actions to result in an “unusual delay,” as the request for contractor bids and repairs were made within 30 days. The defendant's course of action did not reflect negligent behavior that was willful or wanton. The judge ruled that the circuit court's decision for summary judgment in favor of the defendant was appropriate.
When injuries occur caused by hazardous or dangerous conditions on someone's property, the injured party may have grounds to pursue financial compensation to account for their losses. Proving property owner liability in these matters may require assistance from experienced legal counsel, and you may have a limited amount of time to file a personal injury claim. The attorneys at Benassi & Benassi P.C. have been successfully pursuing rightful compensation for their clients in the Peoria area for over 30 years. Contact us today at (309) 674-3556 for a consultation.