Illinois Tort Immunity Act Developments

Meaghan Brady by Meaghan Brady

The Illinois Appellate Court has been busy addressing issues regarding the Tort Immunity Act. Several decisions have been handed down in the last year concerning park districts and police departments. This article addresses some of them.

In Moore v. Chicago Park District, the court addressed the issue of liability of park districts involving snow and ice removal. The court held that an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice in a parking lot owned by the city park district was not a "condition of public property" under the Tort Immunity Act, and therefore the park district was not immune from liability predicated upon negligence.

In Moore, the administrator of a decedent's estate brought Survival Act and Wrongful Death Act claims after the decedent fell in a snow-covered parking lot and died after undergoing an operation for her broken leg. The facts demonstrated that the snow on the sidewalk was pushed to the curb by a park district employee, creating piles, which caused cars to park in handicapped areas, blocking easy access to the parking lot. Defendant moved for summary judgment, which was denied. Defendant then moved to have two questions certified for interlocutory appeal. The trial court vacated its order denying defendant's motion for summary judgment and certified the questions.

On appeal, the court addressed the following certified question: Does an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice constitute the "existence of a condition of any public property" as this expression is used in Section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act? The court answered the question in the negative. Section 3-106 immunizes local public entities and employees from liability for injuries occurring on public, recreational property except where liability is based on wilful and wanton conduct. The court defined "condition" as part of the property's mode or state of being, i.e., part of the property itself. In analyzing the issue, the court noted that the Illinois Supreme Court has held that Section 3-106 immunizes a defendant for liability and negligence where the property itself is unsafe, but that Section 3-106 does not immunize a defendant for unsafe activities conducted upon otherwise safe property. The court held that since a park district employee pushed and stored snow negligently on the parking lot that was otherwise in a normal state, Section 3-106 immunity did not apply. In addition, the court reasoned that the snow was not affixed to the property so as to become a part of the property itself. Therefore, the property itself was not unsafe, but instead, the moving of the snow and ice was an unsafe activity on otherwise safe property. The decision in Moore is important because it clarifies that municipal entities can be held liable for negligent snow and ice removal.

In Thurman v. Champaign Park District, Plaintiff Lucas Thurman was injured while playing indoor tennis, when he ran into a structural steel beam that was hidden by a tarp. The complaint alleged wilful and wanton conduct by the defendant park district. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the allegations did not rise to the level of wilful and wanton conduct and, under the facts of the case, plaintiffs did not and could not allege facts rising to the level of wilful and wanton conduct. The trial court granted defendant's motion.

In analyzing the issue, the appellate court addressed the question of what definition of "wilful and wanton conduct" should be used, the statutory definition alone or the statutory definition combined with common law definitions. The court found that the Tort Immunity Act's statutory definition applies when evaluating a public entity's conduct. Wilful and wanton conduct is defined in Section 1-210 of the Act as "a course of action which shows an actual or deliberate intention to cause harm or which, if not intentional, shows an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others or their property."

After reviewing the facts and case law applying this statutory definition, the court held that the complaint failed to sufficienctly plead wilful and wanton conduct. The court noted that the complaint alleged no facts showing that there was prior notice of injuries, that there was a defective condition on the property of which the park district was aware, nor did the complaint allege the removal of any known safety device. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court, holding that plaintiffs alleged no more than mere negligence and that the park district was entitled to immunity.

The court also addressed several provisions of the Tort Immunity Act regarding police departments and police officers in Doe v. Village of Schaumberg. In Doe, high school students and their parents brought claims against two police departments, two villages and several police officers. The complaint alleged that the defendants failed to report the arrest of a student on a criminal sexual assault charge, which enabled that student to attend classes at the local high school and sexually assault the plaintiffs while attending class. The plaintiffs further alleged that the defendants failed to properly train and supervise employees, and had failed to enforce procedures to ensure the adequate performance of employees' duties.

Defendants filed motions to dismiss, arguing that the complaints did not allege facts showing that they owed plaintiffs any duties and, in any event, were immunized from liability by the Tort Immunity Act. The trial court granted defendants' motions to dismiss and plaintiffs appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, holding that these alleged failures were immune from liability under Section 4-102 of the Tort Immunity Act. The court also held that the failure of defendants to follow the mandates of the Illinois School Code was, in essence, the failure to enforce the statute and, therefore, Section 2-205 of the Tort Immunity Act provided immunity from these claims.