Court Dismisses Wrongful Death Suit Against County Officials Based on Tort Immunity

December 21, 2018

A Livingston County judge has dismissed a wrongful death suit stemming from the 2015 death of a man who drowned after a vehicle he was driving was swept away, overturned and submerged by raging floodwaters near the intersection of county and township roads. His estate claimed that the county, its sheriff and engineers were aware of flood conditions generally in the area and were negligent and/or willful and wanton by permitting a guard rail to block the driver’s view of the surface of the road, and failing to maintain and repair the roadway, culverts, drainage systems and adjacent waterways. The estate also claimed that the county officials failed to safeguard and warn the public from the dangers of flooding, patrol, police and inspect the roadways, give adequate warnings, close off the roadways and put up barricades, and otherwise take reasonable action to prevent or minimize flooding.

In dismissing the lawsuit, the court found that the estate’s allegations were barred by absolute immunity for failing to provide adequate police protection or service (745 ILCS 10/4-102). The court found that this immunity applied to the county sheriff and engineers alike because both were alleged to have responsibilities to protect the public from weather related emergencies. The court also found that the county defendants were not liable because they lacked actual or constructive notice of the flood conditions that caused the decedent’s drowning (745 ILCS 10/3-102). Under Illinois case law, general knowledge of surrounding flood conditions is insufficient to overcome this notice defense.

The court also dismissed the case based on other immunities, including immunity for faulty design and construction (745 ILCS 10/3-103), failure to erect warnings or barricades (745 ILCS 10/3-104), immunity from the effect of weather conditions (745 ILCS 10/3-105), immunity from injuries occurring on, in, or adjacent to any waterway not owned or supervised by the defendants (745 ILCS 10/3-110), and discretionary immunity (745 ILCS 2-201 and 2-109).

Livingston County and its sheriff and engineers are represented by Mike Bersani.

Beaupre v. Livingston County

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