Appellate Decision Curbs Municipalities’ Burden to Pedestrians Injured While Exiting Taxi Cabs
By: Paul A. O’Grady
The First Appellate Court of Illinois recently issued a decision that limits the municipalities’ duty to maintain its property (specifically, curbs and roadways) in a safe condition. In Decker v. City of Chicago, a pedestrian Plaintiff filed suit against the City of Chicago when he was injured while exiting a taxicab immediately north of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street alleging the City had a duty to maintain the curb. 2018 IL App (1st) 171066-U (2018). As the pedestrian exited the taxicab, he stepped on a crumbling and eroding curb which caused him to trip and fall. The pedestrian alleged the City negligently failed to maintain the curb in a safe condition for pedestrians using the curb to enter or exit a taxicab. The general rule and scope of a municipality’s duty to maintain its property is defined by section 3-102(a) of the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. 745 ILCS 10/3-102(a).
Section 3-102(a) states: “a local public entity has the duty to exercise ordinary care to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for the use in the exercise of ordinary care of people whom the entity intended and permitted to use the property in a manner in which and at such times as it was reasonably foreseeable that it would be used.” Id.
It was intended that section 3-102(a) imposed a duty only where the person injured is an intended and permitted user of the property controlled by the municipality. Vaughn v. City of West Frankfort, 166 Ill. 2d 155, 158 (1995).
In Curatola v. Village of Niles, 154 Ill. 2d 201 (1993), the Court recognized an exception to the general rule. The general rule was expanded to include, “the permitted and intended use of the street immediately around a legally parked vehicle by its exiting and entering operators and occupants.” Id. at 213. In the current case, the pedestrian argued the Court should expand on the Curatola exception to include the area around a legally stopped taxicab. Since the Chicago Municipal Code permits the “expeditious loading and unloading of passengers” on city streets, the Plaintiff claimed the City must have intended for passengers to utilize the area immediately around a legally stopped taxicab in order to enter or exit it.
In weighing its decision, the Court considered the following four factors: (1) foreseeability that the defendant’s conduct will result in injury to another; (2) likelihood of injury; (3) the magnitude of guarding against it; and (4) the consequences of placing that burden upon the defendant. Ultimately, the Court would not expand the narrow exception from Curatola, as it held it would not place a duty on the City to maintain areas immediately surrounding stopped taxicabs, because it would impose a duty for the City to maintain areas immediately around all city streets in its entirety.As such, the Court found that the costs of this would be very prohibitive and there wold be negative consequences placed on the City in this respect. Further, it would essentially impose a duty on the City that would be defined by where a taxicab driver dropped off a passenger and would negate section 3-102(a).
For larger municipalities, specifically ones that have significant taxicab traffic, the Court’s decision is a significant win. While it may seem like not a big deal, had the Court imposed a duty on municipalities, it could have created significant budgetary constraints on municipalities. It would place a great amount of pressure on municipalities to constantly maintain all roads, curbs and sidewalks. While this sounds great in theory, it would be unsustainable for a municipality’s public works department to keep up and it would create a constant need for construction, which, in turn, would make commuting harder causing a negative impact on the local economy. Further, it would make the municipality less efficient and less productive, as it would likely be bogged down by more frequently filed lawsuits.
While the Court did not address it in its decision, had the Court decided to expand the narrow exception, the ride share industry could have been included. Ride sharing platforms have gotten so popular that cities, like New York City, have enacted legislation capping the number of drivers. While taxicabs are typically specifically defined, one could craft a strong argument that in practice there is no difference between a taxicab and an Uber or Lyft. Ultimately, a rider gets in one with the purpose of hiring a ride to a specific location. Since it is easily accessible to obtain permission from ride sharing companies to drive for them, this decision could have had a significant impact on smaller municipalities. While it remains to be seen if this decision will be appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, it appears the Appellate Court favored public policy with its decision so as to not place a significant burden on Illinois municipalities.