In a surprising decision from Illinois’ First Appellate District, the Court dismissed the case of a person who injured themselves stepping into a 5-foot pothole. The basis for the ruling? The location of where she parked her car. Her lawsuit was against the City of Chicago for negligent maintenance of the street in allowing an enormous pot hole and potential fall risk to remain in the street. But the Court focused on the fact that her car was parked in a way that partially extended into a section of yellow-painted curb, indicating a fire hydrant zone.
People have the right to sue an Illinois municipality if they are injured because of an act or omission by the municipality. However, there are laws that protect a city based upon the conduct that allegedly caused the injury. One such rule that must be considered is that an injured person must prove that the Defendant in a case owed the Plaintiff a “duty” under the law. This is mandatory under Illinois law. This means that your lawyer must determine the rule that applies to the Defendant and confirm that the facts show the driver, City, doctor, retail store, etc. owed you that duty at the time you were injured. The Court had to determine if the duty to maintain the street in a “reasonably safe condition” applied to a person who was violating an ordinance (because of where Ramirez parked her car).
In the recent case, a woman parked her car on a City of Chicago street to visit her parents. The car was parked so that part of the vehicle covered the part of the curb that was painted yellow in order to mark a ‘no-parking’ zone based on the location of a fire hydrant along the street. However, the rest of her car was in a legal parking zone. The pothole was located in the street, in an area where it was legal to park.
When Ms. Ramirez got hurt, she was actually walking around the front of her car. The front-end of the car was in a legal zone. That’s where the pothole was. The Court examined whether Ramirez was an “intended and permitted user” of the street. The City argued that she was not because she was violating the traffic law by where she parked. Normally, pedestrians are not considered intended users of the street outside of a crosswalk. However, you may use the street to enter or exit a ‘legally parked vehicle.’
Thus, the Appellate Court, in a 2-to-1 decision, upheld the dismissal of Ramirez’s injury claims. It is notable that Justice Harris dissented from the majority: relying on the fact that Ramirez was walking in the area where it was legal to park her car and that the front half was legally-parked and that the back half (in the yellow zone) was not pertinent to the reasons she fell.
This case underscores the importance of paying attention to your surroundings. Seeing the pothole and avoiding it will keep you safe so that you do not need to call an injury lawyer. But sometimes hazards and defects are hard to see. Be sure not to be in a technical violation of street or traffic laws when you park, or you might be deprived of your access to justice in the unfortunate circumstance that an injury does occur.