Illinois Supreme Court Decision Abolishes the Public Duty Rule
The Illinois Supreme Court rendered an opinion on January 22, 2016 in Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection District abolishing the public duty rule. This decision will have a significant impact on the potential liability of municipal entities. The public duty rule stated that the duties owed by government entities, such as the obligation to provide police and fire services, were owed to the public at large rather than to any individual citizen. This meant that individuals could not sue municipalities for the breach of a “public duty.” Municipalities are now subject to liability pursuant to “traditional tort principals.”
The Court did not explain how the duties of municipalities will be established pursuant to “traditional tort principals”. This will open a broad new area of litigation to define the scope of duties owed. In general, the Illinois courts have looked at “reasonable foreseeability” of an injury, the likelihood of an injury, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against it, and the consequences of placing that burden upon the defendant in determining whether to impose a duty. The public duty rule in the past barred claims such as those from inadequate police or fire services, negligent building or other inspections, or negligent permitting. Those areas and others may now subject municipalities to liability.
Municipalities will still be entitled to the protections of the Tort Immunity Act.
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