More IL Lawsuits Likely, Due to Recommended Public Duty Rule Abolishment
Big news ahead! “Public duty rule” is likely to be abolished by Illinois Legislator in the near future following IL Supreme Court Ruling reversing and remanding a prior judgement in Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection District.
So, what is the public duty rule? The common-law public duty rule provides that a local governmental entity and its employees owe no duty of care to individual members of the general public to provide governmental services such as police and fire protection services. Basically, it’s a law protecting public duty workers such as fireman and policeman from being sued because they didn’t arrive to a scene fast enough. It doesn’t give a certain priority to a person. The general public is the priority. (Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection District, 2016 IL 117952)
Local governmental tort immunity in Illinois was first recognized in 1844, in Hedges v. County of Madison. Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection District was the result of a wrongful death and survival claim against the fire district for their failure to save the wife of a claimant following an emergency responder call. The paramedics followed procedure and weren’t able to enter the home of the caller –it wasn’t until a second call nearly an hour later from the claimant that provided access inside the home. The defendants claimed the public duty defense as well as immunity from civil liability.
The court determined:
- Jurisprudence was muddled and inconsistent in the recognition of the public duty rule and its special duty exception;
- Application of the public duty rule is incompatible with the legislature's grant of limited immunity in cases of willful and wanton conduct; and
- Determination of public policy is primarily a legislative function and the legislature's enactment of statutory immunities rendered the public duty rule obsolete.
Meaning, Illinois ruled that this law is no longer feasible. If the public duty rule is abolished by the legislature as a defense for public entities, we’ll likely see a sharp rise in court proceedings and defense costs because motions will not be quickly dismissed with this defense. Public entities will have to resort to conventional tort and immunity protection provided by statutes. Additional questions? Chat with us.
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