• R.F Wittmeyer
  • January 3, 2018

With the weather being so frigidly cold and snowy, many people don’t use bike trails. But the Illinois Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case of a bicyclist injured while cycling on the Skokie Valley Bike Path. Bike trails and paths are at the forefront of their mind.

The Injury

In the early morning of August 2013, Kathy Corbett, an avid cyclist, was thrown from her bicycle was riding along the Skokie Valley Bike Path. However, she did not hit a pothole, speed bump, or other road defect. Corbett hit another cyclist who had also fallen from their bike due to bumps and groves in the pavement. Corbett’s attorney further elaborated on the condition of the bike path. “[T]here were tree roots growing under the asphalt and causing the asphalt to buckle…If you were on a bicycle, you couldn’t see it until you were right on top of it.”

Because of the accident, Corbett sustained many injuries. She suffered frommultiple broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken wrist. She also had a broken forearm and head injuries. Ultimately, Corbett was able to recover from the physical pain of her fall on the bike trails. But her court proceeding, however, was another story.

The Lawsuit

Corbett’s numerous injuries led her to file suit against the City of Highland Park and Lake County. She argued that the City had responsibility for the routine maintenance of the trail that runs within city limits. Corbett brought her suit, but in December 2015, the Lake County Circuit Court granted motions to dismiss the case. The court stated that City of Highland Park and Lake County are “shielded from liability for injuries under a section of the state’s local government immunity act.” The section specifically referenced states “Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of…any hiking, riding, fishing, or hunting trail.” Corbett then appealed the decision to an Illinois Appellate Court. The appellate court reversed the decision causing the City and County to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Illinois Supreme Court

At the Illinois Supreme Court trial, attorneys for the City stated that though it would be safest to the community to simply close access to riding trails, the City did not want to do a disservice to community members. Therefore, the attorneys argued, “the legislature decided the best way to ensure citizens access to trails was to require they assume the risk for injuries caused by conditions on the trails.” Ultimately, the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed with this argument and issued a landmark decision providing a large asterisk to the immunity the City claimed.

According to the Illinois Supreme Court, “absolute immunity does not apply to the Skokie Valley Bike Path or other trails improved with asphalt, concrete, crushed aggregate or similar finishes.” The Court found that because the word “riding” was found in the same sentence as “hiking…fishing, or hunting” regarding the different kinds of trails for which blanket immunity applied. However, the Court felt that the legislature intended for blanket immunity to apply in cases of primitive, rustic, or unimproved trails. The Skokie Valley Bike Path is the opposite: an improved trail.

The Illinois Supreme Court ultimately issued the following new, landmark ruling. “[M]unicipalities can be held liable under certain circumstances for poor conditions on developed bicycle trails.”

 

Because the City of Highland Park and Lake County can no longer hide behind blanket immunity, Corbett can now have her case heard due to the finding of the City and County’s duty to maintain the trail properly.

Corbett’s case will resume in Lake County Circuit Court on the basis of negligence for the City failing to fulfill their duty of properly maintaining the bike path for the health and safety of the public.

What If You Fell While Riding on Bike Trails?

If you or someone you love have fallen while riding your bike, contact an attorney. The experienced lawyers at the Law Offices of R.F. Wittmeyer can help you determine what liability may exist based on an injury on bike trails.

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