The Illinois Appellate Court, First District, reversed a Cook County Circuit Court judge’s ruling which stated that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) was immune from liability under §27 of the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act. The case, Torf v. Chicago Transit Authority, No. 1-09-1710, was remanded back to the lower court for further handling after the Illinois Appellate Court determined there were questions as to material facts yet to be answered in the Illinois train accident case.
Torf involves a 2007 incident on a CTA redline train at the Cermak/Chinatown station. Shortly after departing from the L-station, the train line’s power was shut off and all passengers, including Marla Beth Torf and her husband, were ordered to evacuate onto the tracks. In order to get down to the tracks, Ms. Torf first sat down on the train floor near its doors with the intention of sliding down from there. However, before she was able to do so, another CTA passenger knocked her down, causing her to sustain personal injuries.
Torf filed a complaint against the CTA that alleged the train operator owed her a duty to exercise the highest degree of care to protect the safety of its passengers. The plaintiff alleged that the CTA was negligent and had breached that duty during Ms. Torf’s train accident. In response, the CTA filed a motion for summary judgment which alleged that the plaintiff’s injuries were in fact caused by a criminal assault.
The CTA’s motion for summary judgment further stated that since it viewed the act as a criminal assault, that likewise, the complaint’s allegations accused the train operator of failing to protect Ms. Torf from a criminal act. Under §27 of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the CTA cannot be held liable for a failure to provide its passengers with adequate police protection, or to protect passengers from crimes committed by fellow passengers or other 3rd parties. Therefore, the CTA argued that it was immune from liability for Ms. Torf’s injuries.
However, the plaintiff disagree that the occurrence could be classified as a criminal act, instead stating that the injury was the direct result of the CTA’s negligence in failing to conduct the train evacuation in a safe and orderly manner. Likewise, under the plaintiff’s theory of liability, §27 does not apply. Yet the trial court did apply §27 because it felt that the plaintiff was in fact pushed from the train, which could be constituted as a battery, in which case the CTA was immune.
Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that there was not enough evidence to rule the occurrence a criminal act, an argument the appellate court agreed with. The court found that the record showed that the plaintiff had been pushed or shoved by two people, not one, and that there was not sufficient evidence to determine the mental state of either of those people immediately prior to making contact with the plaintiff. The evidence led the court to believe that any reasonable person could infer that the contact by either of those people with the plaintiff was incidental.
The lack of evidence in the record allows different inferences to be drawn from the evidence, which had not been clarified prior to the lower court’s dismissal. Therefore, a question of material fact remained as to the state of mind of the person who made contact with Ms. Torf. When there exists a question of material fact then a trial judge cannot simply dismiss the case prior to trying it; thus Torf was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
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