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A 5-2 majority of the Illinois Supreme Court held in late 2012 that tort immunity for recreational facilities provided by local governments includes immunity for injuries related to snow accumulations created by routine snow removal efforts.

While this is good news for publicly owned recreational facilities, the immunity is not absolute and would not necessarily apply to other publicly owned land or structures.

The case of Moore v. Chicago Park District (2012 IL 112788) involved a senior citizen who fell as she stepped over a 5” pile of snow trying to get to her car after going to a Chicago Park District facility for a water aerobics class. The court had to address several issues in reaching its decision that the Park District was immune from liability, prominently: (1) whether plowed snow piles were a “condition of” or whether they were an “activity conducted on” the public property; and (2) whether the recreational facility subsection of the Tort Immunity Act was subject to liability if it undertook to remove or manage snow.

Under 745 ILCS 10/3-106, if the snow accumulations caused by snow plows were a “condition of” the property, the Park District would be immune from liability, but if they were determined to be a result of “activity conducted on” the property, the Park District would be subject to liability. The majority concluded that snow and ice, even when placed in piles by snow plows, constituted “passive characteristics of the property” or a condition of the property. Thus, tort immunity applied to recreational facilities.

The court also rejected the argument that a public recreational facility that voluntarily chooses to remove snow or ice is subject to liability for negligently doing so. Prior court interpretations have held that a public entity can be liable for negligent snow removal under 745 ILCS 10/3-105, which is still generally true. However, the court examined the language of section 3-106 pertaining to recreational facilities owned by local public entities, and concluded that the same liability cannot exist for recreational facilities because the statute specifically exempts liability in similar situations unless the facility (or its employee) is guilty of “willful and wanton” conduct that causes the injury. Negligent snow removal is not sufficient to impose liability for recreational public facilities.

The direct takeaway is that recreational facilities now have an immunity that is confirmed to extend greater than to other local government facilities and minimally includes immunity from ordinary snow and ice removal efforts.

Brad Stewart

Author: Brad Stewart