Hepler Broom, LLC

Local Governments and Cyclists Take Note: First District Limits Recent Exception to Tort Immunity Act

August 5, 2022

In a recent blog (which can be read here), HeplerBroom attorney Stephanie Weiner highlighted the First District Appellate Court’s recent ruling in Alave v. City of Chicago and its impact on the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. In Alave, the First District created a narrow exception to the Tort Immunity Act for bicycle riders near Divvy stations in Chicago. The First District did not wait long to limit this new exception when it issued its ruling in Babic v. The Village of Lincolnwood, 2022 IL App (1st) 210929.

Case Background

 In June 2018, Plaintiff rode his bicycle near the curb on a public street in the Village of Lincolnwood, Illinois. As he rode his bike, the front tire struck a sinkhole, causing him to flip his bike and break his wrist. The street Plaintiff fell on contained no bike lanes, signs, or pavement markings that suggested the street was intended for bicycle use. However, the street also lacked sidewalks or bike paths where the Plaintiff could ride his bike. Plaintiff filed a complaint of negligence against the Village. The Village filed an answer to the Complaint and affirmative defenses alleging that it owed no duty to Plaintiff under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act.

After conducting discovery, the Village filed a motion for summary judgment. The Village argued that the Tort Immunity Act limited its duty to Plaintiff because he, as a bicyclist, was not an intended user of the street.

The Circuit Court of Cook County granted the Village of Lincolnwood’s motion for summary judgment, finding that there was no evidence that the Village intended bicyclists to use the portion of the street where Plaintiff encountered the sinkhole and therefore owed him no duty of care.

Plaintiff appealed the circuit court’s ruling.

Appellate Court Ruling

 The primary issue on appeal was whether the Village owed Plaintiff, a bicyclist, a duty to protect him from hazards in the street. Plaintiff argued, in part, that because there were no sidewalks or bike paths near the street where he fell, the Village intended bicyclists to ride in the street. The Court rejected this argument.

In affirming summary judgment for the Village, the First District distinguished the facts in Babic to those in Alave. Specifically, the court noted that the Alave court was able to make the logical corollary that the City of Chicago intended bicycles to be ridden in the street when it approved a network of bicycle rental stations throughout the city that were close to city streets. The Babic court declined to impute the same intent to the Village of Lincolnwood in this case because there were no bike rental stations, signs, road markings, or any other evidence that it intended bicyclists to ride upon Village streets.

The Takeaway

 The First District’s decision in Alave looked outside the language of the Tort Immunity Act to determine the duty owed to bicyclists on public streets. In Babic, the First District declined to use Alave as a jumping off point to erode protection typically enjoyed by municipalities under the Tort Immunity Act. Instead, it reaffirmed that bicyclists are intended users of a street only when the municipality demonstrates its intent—through road signs, markings, or in other ways—to have bicyclists use the street.

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