Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court’s Dismissal in Auto Injury Case Against Municipality; Robinson v. Washington Township

In a close case decided by the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, defendant Will County Washington Township was held responsible for injuries suffered by occupants of an automobile in an accident that was alleged to have been caused by Washington Township roadway construction.

In this case, Ricky Robinson Sr. allegedly lost control of his car after hitting a pothole and construction debris on a roadway that was being fixed by Washington Township in Will County. The Robinson car turned over, injuring Rick Robinson Jr., Mr. Robinson’s son, a passenger in the car.

A lawsuit was brought against the township on behalf of Rick Jr., who was a minor, by his mother, alleging that the township was negligent because:

“After having started the repairs, it failed to provide a road free of hazardous defects when the defendant knew or should have known of the existence of the hazardous conditions of the road”;
• “After having started the repairs, it failed to maintain the road in a reasonably safe condition”;
• “After having started the repairs, it failed to properly inspect the road for hazardous defects”;
• “After having started the repairs, it failed to warn motorists by the use of properly located legible signs of the existence of uneven and undulating surface when defendant knew or should have known the existence of the hazardous conditions of the road”; and
• “After having started the repairs, it failed to warn motorists by the use of properly located legible signs of the existence of potholes.”

The Will County judge dismissed the case, but it was reversed by the appellate court.

The decision of the appellate court was split 2 to 1, but the majority found that §§ 2-109 and 2-202 of the Tort Immunity Act granted immunity to public entities for discretionary functions, but not in the case where the acts of the public entity were ministerial.

Under § 2-201, immunity applies to a township if it can demonstrate that the act of repairing the roadway was a determination of policy and an exercise of discretion, rather than ministerial.

Ministerial acts have been defined by Illinois courts before, as those in which a person performs on a given state of facts in a prescribed manner, in obedience to the mandate of legal authority and without reference to the official’s discretion as to the propriety of the act. Snyder v. Curran Township, 167 Ill.2d 466 (1995).

The appellate court stated that once the public entity carries out the plan, it acts ministerially and is “bound to see that the work is done in a reasonably safe and skillful manner.” Greene v. Chicago, 73 Ill.2d 100 (1978).

A municipality’s act of repair is considered a ministerial act for which it may be liable if done negligently. Gutstein v. Evanston, 402 Ill.App.3d 610 (2010).

In this case, the appellate court agreed with the plaintiff that Washington Township was not immune from liability under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act because the activities of repairing the roadway were ministerial in nature and the township had a duty to perform them in a reasonably safe manner. The order of the Circuit Court of Will County was reversed for further proceedings. There was a dissent in this case. The dissenting opinion stated that liability arises “only when the undertaking improvement, itself, creates an unreasonably dangerous condition.” Ross v. City of Chicago, 168 Ill.App.3d 83 (1988).

Robinson v. Washington Township, 2012 IL App. (3d) 110177 (August 29, 2012).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile accidents, truck crashes and personal injury matters for individuals and families for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Harwood Heights, Elk Grove Village, Elmhurst, Evergreen Park, Bedford Park, Blue Island, Chicago (Washington Heights), Chicago (Ukrainian Village), Hoffman Estates, and Schiller Park, Illinois.

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