The President's Thoughts: Newsletter of The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
Sometimes it is hard to know what ITLA is doing for you. Most of it goes on in Springfield and out of our view. But it involves knowing who is doing what to take away the rights of injured people and making sure we are there to bring the fight.
On Wednesday I testified in Springfield in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The topic was the “Public Duty Rule.” This rule is a holdover from the common law which has been the source of much confusion since the passage of the tort immunity act in 1965. The Public Duty Rule is this: local governments have no duty to provide services to any individual but only to the public as a whole. This rule is a form of sovereign immunity which originated in England and essentially means that the King is not liable no matter what he does to you. Sovereign immunity was eliminated by the 1970 Illinois Constitution with the caveat that the legislature can pass laws granting immunities. That was done previously with the Tort Immunity Act in 1965.
The Illinois Supreme Court recently abolished the Public Duty Rule in a 4-3 decision in the case Coleman v. East Joliet. The majority’s sound reasoning was that the rule was just
confusing our jurisprudence since the passage of the tort immunity act. The tort immunity act provides local governments with very broad immunities from most acts of negligence. There are exceptions, though, for willful and wanton conduct for which local governments are not immune. The court reasoned that the common law Public Duty Rule is an anachronism which is only creating confusion and injustice.
The Public Duty Rule would theoretically require dismissal of a case where a 911 operator hung up on a dying caller, since to deny the dying caller this public service is not a duty under the common law. This is directly contradicted by the 911 act which recognizes a cause of action for willful and wanton misconduct.
But the Illinois Municipal League has appeared in force to seek legislation to resurrect the Public Duty Rule. They felt they lost something in no longer being able to harm Illinois citizens with willful and wanton behavior. So the municipalities and their handlers showed up to claim that they would now have to worry about their every decision.
My testimony was essentially that we don’t want to live in a place where
there is no consequence for willful and wanton conduct. But the only reason I was there was because our staff knew about the bill, put me on the list to testify and provided me with the materials to prepare. Their hard work and vigilance protects you and it protects our clients and every citizen in this state.
That is what ITLA is doing for you.
Christopher T. Hurley, President Illinois Trial Lawyers Association