Illinois municipalities may be held liable for injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists forced into the street by snow piled onto sidewalks and bike lanes by city plows, according to the Illinois Appellate Court. The ruling in Pattullo-Banks v. The City of Park Ridge, 2104 Ill App (1st) 132852 was issued on September 4th and overturned an order entered by Cook County Judge Lynn Egan dismissing the plaintiff's lawsuit against the city.
In her lawsuit, Lorraine Pattullo-Banks alleged that as she walked on a sidewalk along Touhy Avenue in Park Ridge, Illinois she encountered a pile of snow and ice that obstructed her path. Her claim alleged that city snow plows created the pile when they moved snow which had accumulated on the street onto the sidewalk. In order to reach her destination she had to walk into the street, at a place where there was no crosswalk, and was struck by a car. Her lawsuit against the city of Park Ridge alleged that in creating the sidewalk obstruction the municipality violated the duty it owed to her and others to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition. The municipality sought dismissal of the lawsuit under section 3-102(a) of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act which provides that local municipalities only owe a duty to intended and permitted users to keep its property reasonably safe. Ms. Pattullo-Banks was struck and injured in the street, outside of a crosswalk, a place that is not intended for use by pedestrians. It is well established in Illinois that pedestrians are not intended users of the street outside of a crosswalk. But, Ms. Pattullo-Banks argued, the dangerous condition of which she complained was not in the street but on the sidewalk, certainly a place intended for use by pedestrians. Given that context Park Ridge should not be able to avail itself of the protections of the Tort Immunity Act. The appellate court agree with her and reinstated her case. In so doing the Court stated:
[Ms.] Pattullo-Banks' status as an intended or permitted user -- and whether immunity applies -- must be determined based on the property where [the] alleged breach of duty occurred (the sidewalk), not the property where the injury occurred (the street), and not the mechanism of injury (i.e., whether she was struck by an automobile or tripped on a defect).
It is important to note that the Court did not rule on whether the city of Park Ridge acted negligently in creating the obstruction. It merely held that the plaintiff, Ms. Pattullo-Banks, had a right to have a jury consider that issue. Park Ridge was not entitled to have the case dismissed before a jury could consider the facts.
The implications of this ruling are significant. Where a municipality in Illinois clears snow in the street at the expense of sidewalk users, forcing them to face danger by entering the roadway instead, it may be held liable where injury results. Also, while the Pattullo-Banks case involved a pedestrian, there is no reason to believe that the Court's reasoning would not also apply to a bicyclist. For example, a municipality may be held liable where a cyclist is injured after being forced to exit a bike lane and enter the street due to the piling of snow by city plows clearing way for motor vehicle traffic. Last winter, a particularly snowy one, the City of Chicago frequently moved snow from Kinzie Street into the bike lane near the Merchandise Mart often forcing cyclists out of the lane and into the street.
Municipalities in Illinois are now on notice that snow removal is not for motor vehicles, but for all people. If they favor cars and trucks at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists they may be held responsible where harm results.