An Illinois appellate court recently held that the Forest Preserve District of Lake County was immune, pursuant to Section 3-107(b) of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/3-07(b)), in a personal injury lawsuit arising out of injuries sustained on a wooden bridge located on a recreational bike path. McElroy v. Forest Preserve Dist. of Lake County, 2008 WL 3854986 (2d Dist. Aug. 19, 2008).
On September 6, 2008, the plaintiff rode his bicycle in the Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve and followed a marked gravel bike path that led to an elevated wooden bridge. The plaintiff was injured when his bicycle dropped off the western portion of the bridge, which did not have a ramp at the other end and was not connected to the trail. The bridge had been damaged due to flooding and had not yet been repaired.
The plaintiff, and his wife, filed a complaint alleging negligence and willful and wanton conduct. The trial court dismissed the count alleging negligence, but denied summary judgment on the willful and wanton counts under the Tort Immunity Act. The trial court ruled that section 3-107(b) did not apply because the manmade wooden bridge was not a trail. The appellate court disagreed.
Section 3-107 of the Tort Immunity Act states:
“Neither a local public entity or a public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of: (a) Any road which provides access to fishing, hunting, or primitive camping, recreational, or scenic areas . . . (b) Any hiking, riding, fishing or hunting trail.” 745 ILCS 10/3-107 (West 2004) (emphasis added).
The appellate court addressed the question of whether the wooden bridge from which the plaintiff fell was part of a “hiking” or “riding” “trail,” which would provide defendant immunity from liability.
The appellate court rejected an earlier Illinois appellate court decision, Goodwin v. Carbondale Park Dist., 268 Ill. app. 3d 489 (1994), in which the court held that section 3-107(b) gave governmenmtal entities absolute immunity from injuries sustained on “unimproved” trails only. In McElroy, the court explicitly “disagreed with Goodwin‘s contention that a trail must be ‘unimproved’ in order to fall under section 3-107(b).”
Instead, the court accepted the defendant’s argument that “regardless of whether a trail surface is crushed gravel, asphalt, or wooden planks, section 3-107(b) applies to multi-use trails, immunizing it from liability for any condition of the trail.” Thus, although the bridge was manmade and the bridge’s defects caused the plaintiff’s injuries, the defendants were still immune from any liability under the Tort Immunity Act.
Illinois personal injury lawyers will continue to fight on behalf of injured plaintiffs to compensate them for the harm caused by the negligence of others, including governmental entities.