In the recent case of Martin v. City of Chicago, 2023 IL App (1st) 221116 (November 15, 2023) 3d Div., Cook Co., the Appellate Court addressed the issue of public entity liability for injuries caused by defective sidewalks. The Plaintiff, Sarah Martin, alleged that she sustained injuries after falling into a hole in a sidewalk in Chicago. Martin filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the city was negligent in maintaining the sidewalk in a safe condition. The trial court considered the case as one of premises liability and instructed the jury to determine if the Plaintiff was contributorily negligent. The jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the city, with a finding that the Plaintiff was more than 50% contributorily negligent.
The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the city was not liable for Martin’s injuries. The court reasoned that the city was not required to maintain its sidewalks in a perfect condition, but only in a reasonably safe condition. The court also found that Martin was contributorily negligent, as she had failed to exercise reasonable care for her safety.
Implications for Public Entities
The Court’s decision in Martin scores another win for public entities in Illinois. The court’s holding that public entities are not required to maintain their sidewalks in perfect condition may make it more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail in lawsuits against public entities in sidewalk defect cases. The court’s finding that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent may also make it more difficult for plaintiffs to recover damages in sidewalk defect cases, even if they are able to prove that the public entity was negligent. In addition to the legal implications of the decision in Martin, there are also policy considerations that should be taken into account. For example, the decision could curtail public entities from investing in sidewalk inspection and maintenance, which could lead to an increase in the number of sidewalk defects.
Despite the Court’s public entity-friendly decision, public entities should consult an attorney before making any changes to their ordinances or policies regarding inspecting, maintaining and repairing sidewalk defects.