Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Summary Judgment for City in Sinkhole Personal Injury Claim

In a recent case decided by the Sixth Division of the Illinois Appellate Court, the plaintiff alleged that he suffered injuries as a result of an improperly maintained pothole in the roadway. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he was driving his vehicle along a roadway maintained by the City of Chicago (“the City”) when a sinkhole opened up in the road. He also claimed that his entire vehicle fell into the sinkhole. During his deposition, the plaintiff testified that only the rear portion of his vehicle sank into the sinkhole. Following the accident, the plaintiff contacted 911 and was transported to a hospital to treat his various injuries. The plaintiff alleged in the complaint that his vehicle was impounded by the City and later destroyed without a proper provision of notice.

The plaintiff asserted two causes of action against the City. First, he claimed that the city was negligent in its maintenance of the roadway and that it failed to repair defects that it knew or should have known posed a risk of harm to the public.

Second, he asserted a claim for Res Ipsa Loquitur. This legal principle states that the occurrence of the accident implies that negligence was responsible, meaning the accident could not have happened but for a negligent act. The Latin phrase means “the thing speaks for itself.” In an appropriately pleaded Res Ipsa Loquitur claim, the plaintiff is able to assert a rebuttable presumption that the defendant acted negligently. There are three elements the plaintiff must prove:  that the accident would not ordinarily occur without negligence, that the device that caused the injury to occur was under the defendant’s control, and that there is no other plausible explanation for the accident.

In response to the complaint, the City filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the plaintiff could not prevail on his Res Ipsa Loquitur claim because of section 2-102(a) of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. This section states, in general, that a local public entity cannot be held liable for injuries unless the plaintiff proves that the local public entity had actual or constructive notice of “a condition that is not reasonably safe in reasonably adequate time prior to an injury to have taken measures to remedy or protect against such conditions.” Relying on this section, the City argued that it did not have prior notice of the sinkhole and that the plaintiff was barred from suing the City for premises liability as a result.

The trial court ultimately ruled in favor of the defendant and granted the defendant summary judgment on both of the plaintiff’s claims.

In reviewing the evidence offered at trial, including the testimony of several individuals involved with the maintenance and operation of city roadways, the appellate court concluded that the City did not have actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition that allegedly caused the sinkhole. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the City.

At Therman Law Offices, we proudly provide compassionate, personalized, and aggressive legal counsel to premises liability victims and their families throughout Illinois. We understand how stressful and complicated a legal proceeding can be, especially when you are coping with painful injuries. To schedule your free consultation, contact our personal injury lawyers at 312-588-1900 or contact us online to get started.

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