Law Enforcement Liability for Failing to Perform Statutory Duties in Domestic Violence Situations

The Takeaway

Recent Illinois First District Appellate Court opinions have expanded liability for law enforcement officials’ failure to perform statutory duties under Illinois’ domestic violence law.

To avoid liability, law enforcement officials with any knowledge of a potential danger to a suspected domestic abuse victim should perform as many statutorily mandated actions as possible under Section 304 of Illinois’ Domestic Violence Act (“Act”).


The Illinois Domestic Violence Act (750 ILCS 60/101 et seq.) provides a comprehensive statutory scheme for dealing with domestic violence situations. Under Section 304, law enforcement officers are required to actively assist victims of domestic abuse. When officers have reason to believe a person has been “abused, neglected, or exploited by a family or household member,” the officer “shall” immediately use “all reasonable means to prevent further abuse, neglect, or exploitation[.]” 750 ILCS 60/304(a). (emphasis added)

These “reasonable means” include:

(1) arresting the alleged perpetrator if appropriate

(2) seizing the perpetrator’s weapons

(3) accompanying the victim to their residence for a reasonable period of time to remove their personal belongings and possessions

(4) offering the victim adequate and immediate information regarding relief available to the victim under Illinois law, including seeking orders of protection

(5) referring the victim to an accessible service agency

(6) advising the victim about seeking medical attention and preserving evidence of abuse

(7) providing or arranging transportation for the victim to a medical facility or a nearby place of shelter or safety. 750 ILCS 60/304(a)(1)-(7)

If the perpetrator is not arrested, the Act also lists several actions law enforcement officers “shall” take, including:

  • making a police report of the investigation of any bona fide allegation of domestic abuse, neglect, or exploitation and the disposition of the investigation
  • informing the victim of his or her right to request a criminal proceeding
  • advising the victim of the importance of seeking medical attention and preserving evidence. 750 ILCS 60/304 (b)(1)-(3) (emphasis added)

Though law enforcement officials are required to perform the above statutory duties under Section 304 of the Act, Section 305 of the Act also provides immunity from liability to officers who act in “good faith” during emergency situations so long as the officers did not engage in willful and wanton misconduct. 750 ILCS 60/305.

First District Appellate Court Opinions

Two recent First District Appellate Court opinions discuss officers’ duties to domestic abuse victims under Section 304 and the willful and wanton exception to the immunity provided under Section 305: Taylor v. City of Chicago, 2024 IL App (1st) 221232 and Davis v. Village of Maywood, 2023 IL App (1st) 211373. In each case, the court concluded the immunity provision may not apply, and liability could be imposed because the officers’ failure to take actions required under Section 304 could constitute willful and wanton misconduct.

Taylor v. City of Chicago, 2024 IL App (1st) 221232

In Taylor, the appellate court affirmed a $3 million jury verdict against the City of Chicago.

The City argued, among other things, that it was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict because its police officers had immunity under Section 305 and the evidence failed to show the officers engaged in willful and wanton misconduct. The appellate court disagreed, finding the officers’ failure to perform their statutory duties under Section 304 sufficiently established willful and wanton misconduct.

The evidence showed the officers knew the perpetrator was dangerous (he was wielding a samurai sword and knives and starting grease fires in the apartment where the officers first responded to a 911 “domestic” call). Though the officers took the perpetrator’s weapons away and took him to a mental health facility for an evaluation, they did not take any other mandated actions under Section 304.

Regarding the victim, the officers failed to:

  • accompany her to her apartment to retrieve her belongings
  • offer her any information about protective orders
  • give her a referral to a service agency
  • advise her about seeking medical attention
  • provide for or arrange transportation for her to go to a medical facility or a nearby place of shelter or safety

Regarding the perpetrator, the officers failed to:

  • fully inform the hospital that they had witnessed the perpetrator’s violent behavior
  • stay at the hospital long enough to find out the results of the mental health evaluation
  • take any steps to ensure that someone filled out the paperwork necessary for the perpetrator to be civilly committed
  • wait to determine if they needed to take any further action to protect the victim if the medical staff did not civilly commit the perpetrator

According to the court, the evidence showed the officers were more interested in going home after their shifts than protecting the victim.

The court eventually concluded the officers’ failure to use “all reasonable means” provided under Section 304 to protect the victim from further abuse sufficiently established willful and wanton misconduct, especially given that less than 24 hours after the perpetrator was admitted, he was released from the hospital, returned to the apartment, and strangled the victim to death.

Davis v. Village of Maywood, 2023 IL App (1st) 211373

In Davis, the appellate court disagreed with the circuit court’s findings that the complaint’s allegations were factually deficient.

The plaintiffs [Andrew Davis and his deceased father’s estate (Lee Anthony Davis)] filed a complaint for wrongful death alleging Maywood police officers caused Lee Anthony’s death by failing to perform their mandated duties under Section 304 of the Act.

The complaint alleged the officers:

  • knew the perpetrator was acting aggressively and violently toward Andrew, Lee Anthony, and others in the home
  • knew the perpetrator was dangerous but did not arrest him; they only took him to a mental health facility for an evaluation
  • did not ask Andrew or Lee Anthony if they wanted to file criminal charges or take any of the other actions prescribed under Section 304
  • did not ask Andrew or Lee Anthony if they wanted to file orders of protection
  • did not explain to the men how to file for such orders
  • did not accompany the men to retrieve their belongings from the home
  • did not take either of the men to a place of safety
  • did not offer the men medical treatment
  • did not offer to preserve evidence of the abuse
  • did not summarize relief available to the men under the Act

The perpetrator was released from the hospital later that night. He then went back to the house, choked a sleeping Andrew into unconsciousness, and pushed Lee Anthony down a flight of stairs to his death.

The appellate court found the plaintiffs’ allegations sufficiently stated a cause of action. The officers’ failure to perform their mandated duties under Section 304 sufficiently alleged willful and wanton misconduct, thereby precluding dismissal under the immunity provision in Section 305.

  • Sarah B. Jansen

    Sarah B. Jansen focuses her practice on construction contracts and defense litigation, commercial general liability coverage, risk transfer matters, and municipal law. She also practices in the area of complex civil litigation ...

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