In 1992, an 8th grader at a Chicago Public School broke his neck after hitting his head on a mat while attempting a flip. The incident occurred during an extracurricular lunch activity run by an employee of the Chicago Youth Centers at a Chicago Public School that owned the trampoline.
Ten years after the accident, a Cook County Circuit Court Judge granted summary judgment for the defendants. The judge agreed with the defense argument that absolute immunity applied under the Tort Immunity Act.
The Tort Immunity Act is to ensure that public entities and employees are not liable to pay damages to an injured third party. According to the Tort Immunity Act, public entities, such as Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Youth Centers, and public employees, such as the Chicago Youth Centers’ employee in charge of the extracurricular activity, are not liable for the actions and indiscretions of others. However, if a public employee’s actions or lack thereof constitutes willful and wanton conduct, the employee is liable for the injured third party.
The plaintiff’s attorney appealed contending that the Tort Immunity Act provides an exception for willful and wanton conduct during a “hazardous recreational activity” such as trampoline jumping.
The Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed the lower court’s judgment order for the defendants. That court indicated that the actions were not willful and wanton.
The case was again appealed but this time to the Illinois Supreme Court where in a ruling in 2006 it found in a 3 to 4 decision with the defendants. The plaintiff requested a rehearing to the high court which responded in 2007 by unanimously reversing its prior decision in an opinion written by Justice Thomas L. Kilbride. The Supreme Court held that “trampolining” is a “hazardous recreational activity” in which governmental tort immunity can be defeated if the defendants’ conduct was willful and wanton. The high court decided that a jury should determine whether the conduct was willful and wanton sending the case back to the Chicago Circuit Court for trial. As the case was set for jury selection, the defendants settled.
It took more than 17 years, but the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Youth Centers settled the case for $14.6 million.
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