Illinois Supreme Court Decision Exposes Local Governments to Lawsuits

The Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision in Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection District brings a significant change to Illinois law. Its decision greatly increases the exposure of local public entities to lawsuits. In the decision, the court repealed the public-duty doctrine, which held that local government entities owed a duty to the public in general, but not to individual citizens.

need-an-ambulance-1512594The lawsuit was filed by the family of a woman from Will County who died after waiting for an ambulance for 41 minutes. The woman called 911 and told the operators that she could not breathe and needed an ambulance. Her call was then transferred to another county’s dispatch operator, without relaying any information about the call. The second operator asked the woman questions but received no response. He then hung up and called back but received a busy signal, so he requested an ambulance for an unknown medical emergency.

Responders were then sent to the woman’s house, but no one answered the door. The responders asked dispatch for more information but did not receive any. They told the neighbors that they could call the police and ask them to make a forced entry. The responders then left, at the direction of their supervisor.

After neighbors called 911 once again, a second ambulance was dispatched, but it was sent to the wrong address. The responders eventually arrived at the correct address and entered the home 41 minutes after the original 911 call. The woman was found in the home unresponsive, and she was pronounced dead at the hospital. She was only 58 years old. The woman’s family filed a personal injury lawsuit against the local fire protection districts, alleging that their actions were negligent and willful, and they resulted in the woman’s death.

What Changed with the Decision?

Previously, Illinois had a “public-duty rule,” which stated that local government entities did not owe a duty to individual citizens to provide adequate government services. This meant that individuals could not sue entities such as the police or fire departments for negligent conduct. In Illinois, the State Lawsuit Immunity Act provides that the state of Illinois cannot be made a defendant in court. In addition, local governments also have immunity from lawsuits, including emergency medical services providers and emergency telephone systems.

The court’s decision abolished the public-duty rule. The court stated that an entity might still have a duty to individuals, even if it is a public entity. Accordingly, the court sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether the defendant could be held liable for its conduct.

Critics say that cities and counties could be liable for a range of issues now. For example, a person may be able to sue the police department if someone who has evaded capture by the police burglarizes their home. However, at its core, the decision means that individuals may be able to sue government entities, including fire and police departments, based on injuries that resulted from an entity’s negligence.

Have You Been Injured Because of a Government Entity’s Conduct?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured because of a fire or police department’s or other entity’s negligent conduct, you may be able to file a claim for monetary compensation. You should speak with a dedicated Illinois personal injury attorney as soon as possible to learn how to proceed. The skilled attorneys at Moll Law Group have experience in complicated cases that deal with issues of immunity. Our lawyers are here to help you file your claim and seek the compensation you deserve. To learn more, call us at 312-462-1700 or fill out our consultation form to arrange a free initial consultation.

See More Posts:

Common Carriers Must Take Reasonable Care or Face Liability, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, January 12, 2016.

Safer Technologies in Cars, But Not For Everyone, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, February 2, 2016.

Illinois Protects Police with Partial Immunity in Police Misconduct Cases, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, January 16, 2016.