Court Finds that Police Not at Fault for Vehicle Pursuit that Led to Teen’s Death

December 18, 2020

Earlier this month, a Kendall County Circuit Court Judge granted the City of Yorkville’s motion for summary judgment finding that a Yorkville Police officer was not liable for the death of a teen involved in a high speed police pursuit. The incident occurred in the early morning hours of January 5, 2017. There had been a spree of porch thefts in a subdivision over the previous days and months, and the Yorkville police stepped up presence to combat the crime wave. On the morning of the incident, a 911 caller reported another porch theft and an officer responded and pulled over the offending vehicle. As the officer exited his squad car and approached the suspect’s vehicle, the suspect took off at a high rate of speed. The officer reentered his squad and pursued the suspect for less than a mile and less than a minute at 55 mph in a 30 mph speed zone. The suspect lost control of her car and crashed into a tree killing herself upon impact. Her parents filed suit claiming that the officer was liable for their daughter’s death.

In granting summary judgment for the City, the court found first that the teen was “in custody” by virtue of the traffic stop and therefore was considered an escaping prisoner when she took off. Under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, local public entities and employees are not liable for injuries caused by escaping prisoners. Second, the court held that the officer’s conduct was not willful and wanton, citing the officer’s compliance with policy, including the justification for initiating the pursuit and the use of lights and siren, and the circumstances surrounding the incident, such as the good weather and visibility conditions, time of day, light traffic conditions, and short duration and distance of the pursuit. Finally, the court agreed with the city’s position that the officer’s actions were not the proximate cause of the teen’s death. No Illinois case has permitted a fleeing motorist to recover for her own injuries incurred as a result of a police pursuit.

The City was represented by HCB attorneys Mike Bersani and Tony Fioretti.

Hill v. City of Yorkville

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