Personal Injury Case Against School Reviewed By Illinois Appellate Court for Immunity Issues of Willful and Wanton Count

Under Illinois law, public entities, like schools or municipalities, have a heightened level of immunity from injuries that occur as a result of the use of public property. The rules governing this immunity fall under §3-106 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act.

A recent Illinois personal injury case was examined by the Illinois Appellate Court to determine whether the lower court was correct in dismissing the plaintiff’s willful and wanton misconduct count under claims of a school’s immunity under §3-106. In Peters v. Herrin Community School District, No. 4, et al., No. 5-08-0125 the Illinois Appellate Court for the Fifth District reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case back to the lower court.

In Peters, the minor plaintiff was injured while participating in a summer football camp sponsored by the defendant school district. The Illinois personal injury occurred when the plaintiff camper was running from the dressing room to the football practice field. The plaintiff and his fellow campers were following his coaches’ instructions as to what route to follow when the plaintiff tripped over a bumper on the shot-put pit. The bumper was obstructed from view by weeds.

The plaintiff’s mother filed a multi-count complaint against the school district, the school officials, and its coaches, alleging claims of ordinary negligence and of willful and wanton misconduct. In response, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, citing their immunity under §3-106 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. The trial court then dismissed all of plaintiff’s claims of ordinary negligence, but allowed plaintiff to replead its willful and wanton count.

However, in response the defendants filed yet another motion to dismiss, this time alleging that the football field where the Illinois injury occurred was a recreational facility and was not being used for educational purposes. If the field was in fact a recreational facility, then §3-106 of the Act bars any common law negligence occurring on school grounds that are being used for recreational purposes. The trial court dismissed the case, agreeing with the defendants that the school’s immunity applied in Peters and therefore plaintiff did not have a cause of action as a matter of law.

Plaintiff appealed, stating that the defendants did not have immunity under §3-106 because the field was being used for educational purposes, which would in turn negate the school’s immunity under the Act. The appellate court agreed that there was some validity to plaintiff’s theory that the grounds were used for educational purposes, not recreational ones. The appellate court felt that neither the plaintiff or defendants had been “given the opportunity to fully develop its theory on the issue of whether the property was being used for educational purposes or recreational purposes.”

In addition, the appellate court stated even if §3-106 does apply, the trial court had incorrectly granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s willful and wanton conduct because a rational tier of facts still existed wherein plaintiff could prove that the defendants showed an utter indifference or conscious disregard for the plaintiff’s safety. Therefore the appellate court remanded the case back to the trial court for handling.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois personal injury lawsuits for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Oak Lawn, Oak Park, Park Ridge, and Wilmette. Contact us for a free consultation.

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