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Governments Not Liable for Injuries on Natural Trails

Posted on in Personal Injury

Governments Not Liable for Injuries on Nature TrailsGovernment entities and employees in Illinois have greater than normal protection from personal injury lawsuits in cases of premises liability. In most cases, the plaintiff will need to prove willful and wanton conduct by the government entity in order to receive damages. However, local governments are immune from all liability when an injury occurs on a natural trail, even if willful and wanton conduct is involved. Thus, it is crucial to differentiate between nature trails and other recreational trails in personal injury cases.

Understanding the Law

Illinois’ Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act defines what liability local governments hold when injuries occur on public property. The law provides immunity to local governments for injuries caused by the condition of any natural hiking or riding trails used to reach areas for:

  • Hunting;
  • Fishing;
  • Primitive camping and recreational activities; and
  • Scenic views.

Because the law does not mention an exception for willful or wanton conduct, courts assume that the law provides complete immunity for all natural trails that meet the legal definition. The intent of the law is to allow local governments to preserve trails that remain in their natural states. Holding governments liable for the upkeep of such trails would contradict the purpose of having natural paths. As a result, patrons take responsibility for protecting themselves against natural obstacles and hazards.

Recent Example

In the case of Corbett v. The County of Lake et al, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a recreational trail maintained by the city of Highland Park does not qualify for automatic immunity. The plaintiff is suing for damages after being injured in a bicycle crash. A portion of the asphalt trail was broken and uneven because of an overgrowth of weeds. A circuit court granted the city’s request for summary judgment, citing immunity under Illinois law. An appellate court overturned that decision, stating that the riding path did not meet the dictionary definition of a trail. Upon appeal, the supreme court disagreed with the appellate court’s use of the dictionary in its opinion but reached the same conclusion for different reasons:

  • The section of the law being cited refers to primitive and unimproved trails;
  • The city has made efforts to improve the trail by adding asphalt; and
  • Because of the improvements, the trail is more akin to paths in public parks.

Determining Liability

A local government cannot claim absolute immunity from premises liability when it has made efforts to modify and upkeep the land. A McHenry County personal injury attorney at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, can help you show why a government entity’s wanton and willful actions are responsible for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.



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