Illinois Supreme Court rules city liable in trip-and-fall accident

A sidewalk in LeClaire, IA., 4-18-2013. (Photo shared by Ben H. via Facebook)

DANVILLE (Illinois News Network) – The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that a central Illinois city is liable for a woman injured on its uneven sidewalks, a precedent that could affect cities across the state.

The state’s high court said the city of Danville wasn’t immune from a lawsuit a woman filed after she tripped on an uneven seam in a sidewalk there.

Barbara Monson tripped on the sidewalk in 2012 and sued the city for not fixing it. Lower courts ruled that the city wasn’t liable but the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed, saying laws that give Illinois municipalities immunity weren’t as important as the common law requirement for them to keep their property in working order. The Supreme Court said in its ruling that it is “the common-law duty of a local public entity to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition.”

Typically, state law grants cities a certain level of immunity from getting sued, which the two lower courts agreed with, but the Supreme Court said the common law responsibility for a city to maintain its structures was more important.

“I’m very disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch Director Travis Akin, who says this ruling could open the floodgates to people seeking paydays via lawsuits with cities.

“This could expose cities across the state of Illinois to unnecessary and absolutely ridiculous litigation moving forward,” he said. “These communities could be nickeled and dimed with these small claims that may be more beneficial to just settle than to pursue in court.”

Akin said that this could affect an Illinois municipality regardless of whether or not they face a lawsuit or not. Cities that carry liability insurance could see higher costs of underwriting since this poses a new risk for a claim.

The opinion said that the city may have been OK had they marked the spot in the sidewalk as damaged.

The court sent the case back to the lower court to be decided.

Officials with the City of Danville had left town for a conference and were not made available to comment on the ruling.