Illinois Supreme Court Issues Significant Tort Immunity Opinions

April 29, 2022

The Illinois Supreme Court rarely issues opinions on local governmental immunities. When it does, it usually represents a significant development in the law. That was the case recently when the Court handed down Schultz v. St. Clair County, 2022 IL 1180973, and Robinson v. Village of Sauk Village, 2022 IL 127236.

In Schultz, a 911 dispatcher allegedly refused to dispatch emergency services based on the report of an intoxicated motorist who eventually drove off the road and died in a single car crash. In a case of first impression, the Court held that the limited immunity under section 15.1(a) of the Emergency Telephone System Act, 50 ILCS 750/15.1(a), allowed the dispatcher to be sued for willful and wanton conduct. The Court held that the ETS Act prevailed over section 4-102 of the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/4-102, which provided absolute immunity when a public employee fails to provide police protection. However, the court affirmed dismissal of the suit based on the lack of proximate cause. The Court found that the dispatcher’s conduct at most furnished a condition that made the crash possible, and that the decedent’s decision to drive while intoxicated was the sole proximate cause of her injuries and death.

In Robinson, a pedestrian sued for injuries sustained after being struck by a vehicle fleeing from the police. The police originally had the fleeing suspect boxed in with their police cars in a church parking lot, but the suspect was able to drive away. The police argued therefore that they were not liable under section 4-106 of the Tort Immunity Act, which provides absolute immunity for injuries caused by an escaping prisoner. The Court held that the fleeing suspect did not qualify as “prisoner” because the police did not directly control or limit his freedom of movement. In other words, a mere show of authority by stopping his car and pointing guns at him was insufficient. The Court overruled Townsend v. Anderson, 2019 IL App (1st) 180771 in which the Appellate Court held stopping a vehicle with occupants in the back seat was sufficient custody for purposes of section 4-106 immunity.

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