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Illinois Supreme Court Narrows Premises Liability Exception

Posted on in Personal Injury

historical value, Illinois landowners, McHenry County personal injury attorney, premises liability, sidewalk cracksLandowners in Illinois have a duty to use reasonable care to protect guests on their land from dangerous conditions that may exist, a duty known as premises liability. However, the Illinois Supreme Court recently issued a ruling in Burns v. City of Centralia that narrowed this duty in certain cases. The plaintiff in Burns was a 79-year-old woman who was walking up the sidewalk to her eye clinic for a doctor's appointment. The sidewalk was cracked and uneven as a result of root growth from a nearby 100-year-old tree. The city was aware of the issue, but did not want to fix it because of the tree's historical value. As a result, the woman tripped and was injured. Nevertheless, the court ruled that the city was not liable for her injuries because the defect in the sidewalk was “open and obvious.”

Premises Liability

The first step to understanding this case is understanding premises liability in general. Illinois requires people to use reasonable care to protect people on their land from hazards of that land. The law considers a person to have failed in this duty when three conditions are met.

  1. The landowner knows or should know of a dangerous condition on his or her land;

  2. The landowner should expect that others on the land would be unaware of the danger or would not protect themselves; and

  3. The landowner fails to use reasonable care to protect others on his or her land.

It is this second prong related to the awareness of others on the land that Burns turns on.

Open and Obvious Defects vs. the Distraction Exception 

In the case, the city argued that the defect in the sidewalk was open and obvious. This is a legally recognized exception by which courts abide. Essentially, the argument is that because the sidewalk's cracks were easily visible, the responsibility rested with the plaintiff not to trip. This was not the sort of defect that required special landowner protection to fix. The plaintiff just needed to be more careful.

In response, the plaintiff raised an exception to the open and obvious rule, the distraction exception. If the landowner could reasonably expect a person to be distracted and not notice an otherwise obvious defect, then he or she is once again responsible for taking care of it. The plaintiff argued that because she was focused on the eye clinic's door, she was, legally speaking, distracted. However, the court rejected this view, holding that merely having another object to focus on was not enough of a distraction to trigger the exception

If you or someone you love was recently injured by someone else's carelessness, reach out to a McHenry County personal injury attorney today. Our firm's skilled professionals are here to help victim's get the compensation that you need.

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