IS FOREST PRESERVE OF COOK COUNTY LIABLE WHEN TREE LIMB FALLS AND HITS MOTORIST ON ADJACENT ROADWAY? MAYBE
In Belton v. Forest Preserve of Cook County, Darryl Belton was injured when his car was struck by a decaying tree limb that fell from a tree on property maintained by the Forest Preserve District[“the District”]. Belton was driving on an adjacent roadway that was NOT on Forest Preserve property.
Belton sued the Forest Preserve District alleging it should have identified the decaying branch and removed it.
The District moved for summary judgment, arguing that under 3-102 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, it did not owe any duty to someone on an adjacent property – even if injured due to a condition on District property. The trial court agreed and entered summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s restrictive interpretation of Section 3-102.
And the Appellate Court agreed – the District’s interpretation of 3-102 was just wrong. The Appellate Court not so gently noted: “The District has argued its property maintenance duties to the world are limited to certain users of its property and do not encompass persons on adjacent or abutting property. However, there is considerable, well-settled authority indicating public entities are liable for injuries occuring on adjacent or abutting land.” Because the trial court had improperly restricted the breadth of 3-102, the order of Summary Judgment was reversed.
But the plaintiff isn’t out of the woods[incredibly bad pun]. The Appellate Court ruled that it was unable to determine if the District owed Belton any duty to maintain the trees along the adjacent roadway. The parties were to continue with discovery so that the trial court could consider the issue of duty.