In two separate cases involving very similar sets of facts, two different Northern Illinois bicyclists won their respective appeals and got renewed opportunities to pursue compensation for the harm they suffered after they fell while riding along bike paths in the greater Chicago area. In both cases, the plaintiffs’ appeals succeeded because the government entities that owned and were responsible for maintaining the paths were not immune from suit under Illinois statutes.
One of the two bicyclists was a man riding along the Lakefront Trail in Chicago in July 2013. While steering around a pedestrian, he allegedly hit a defect in the concrete that threw him to the ground. The fall inflicted injuries to the man’s shoulder. The other bicyclist was a woman who was traveling along the Old Skokie Bike Path in Highland Park. Another rider in her bicyclist group hit a bump in the path and wiped out. Unable to steer around him, the woman hit the man and his bike. The collision pitched her into the air and eventually onto the paved surface, seriously injuring her.
Each bicyclist launched personal injury lawsuits to seek damages for the harm they’d suffered. In both cases, the defendants were governmental entities and centered their defenses around arguments that the law made them immune from these types of lawsuits. In both cases, the trial courts agreed with the defendants and dismissed the lawsuits. In the Chicago case, the court concluded that the path was an “access road,” which made the Chicago Park District immune from liability under Section 3-107(a) of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. In the Highland Park case, the court concluded that the path was a “riding trail,” which made the city and the county immune under Section 3-107(b) of the same Act.
Fortunately for these two injured bicyclists, neither gave up. Each bicyclist appealed the summary judgment order in their respective case. In each case, the appeals court sided with the bicyclist. In the Chicago case, the appeals court, in the absence of statutory clarity or clear precedent from the courts, looked at cases on Section 3-107(b) to decide how to interpret Section 3-107(a). Ultimately, the court concluded that, just as immunity under Section 3-107(b) requires that the trail be in an undeveloped area, so too must immunity under Section 3-107(a) be limited to cases in which the access road was in an undeveloped area. In this plaintiff’s case, he was biking along the Chicago lakefront near the Shedd Aquarium when he hit the crack in the concrete and fell. This clearly was not an undeveloped area, which meant that the immunity granted by Section 3-107(a) did not apply.
In the Highland Park case, that court concluded that the immunity granted under Section 3-107(b) to government entities for “riding trails” was limited to trails in forests or mountainous areas. The Old Skokie Bike Path was very definitely not located in a forest or a mountainous area, and, as the court eloquently described it, “people who use the path are interested in recreation, but there is no reason to think that they use it to feel reconnected with wild nature as they ride along and take in a vista of power lines, parking lots, warehouses, cyclone fences, stacks of industrial pipes, and utility poles, towers, and wires.”
In other words, the immunity provided by Section 3-107 did not apply to either of these defendants, and the bicyclists should each be allowed to pursue their respective cases.
In each case, the government defendants have appealed, and the Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear both cases.
If you have suffered injuries as a result of an accident suffered while bicycling, you need the experienced Chicago injury attorneys of Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca on your side. Our attorneys have many years of experience helping injured people litigate their cases and pursue the compensation they deserve. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.
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