Injuries on Chicago City Property: The Basics

If you've been injured anywhere on Chicago city property, you may be considering a lawsuit. Suing the government in Illinois isn't easy and comes with a whole set of complicated rules and time limits -- ones that you must follow or you will lose the right to bring a lawsuit.

A word of caution. Before bringing any lawsuit, you may want to at least consider consulting a Chicago personal injury lawyer or a Chicago legal aid provider, as the process can be quite complicated.

What is the law?

City governments, as public institutions, enjoy special government immunity from certain kinds of liability. The concept of "governmental immunity" has long been recognized in Illinois. The specific law is found in the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (The Tort Immunity Act, for short).

The basic premise is that no part of the government and no one working for the government can be sued for anything done within the discretion of their job. Are you out of luck, then? Does that mean the government can run amok and never be held liable? While it may seem like that at times, the truth is you can sue the government, but only in certain circumstances and in certain courts. So, if you've been injured on city property, let's explore your options.

What is city property? Who should I sue if I'm injured?

Determining who is responsible for your accident is the first hurdle. The short answer is, anywhere maintained by the city is city property, such as Chicago City Hall. Here are examples of a few more places:

  • Public streets and sidewalks;
  • City parking lots;
  • Parks maintained by the city;
  • Public playgrounds;
  • City buildings; and
  • City buses.

The city must not act negligently or unreasonably. But there are times when they simply shouldn't act recklessly. It will really depend on where the accident occurred and what duty of care the city owes you. Speaking to an attorney can help clarify this for you.

Basically, the city is responsible for maintaining public property safely and free of dangerous conditions. If a dangerous condition does arise, the city government is responsible to fix the problem as quickly as possible. If they don't they may be found liable for any injuries that result from it.

Dangerous conditions can include wet surfaces caused by rain, pressure cleaning or spilled liquids, inadequate lighting, uneven surfaces, cracked sidewalks, improper guardrails, hidden or unmarked potholes, unmarked construction site, or foreign objects left on the ground.

What type of injuries commonly happen on city property?

Different people sue city governments for different reasons. There are several reasons you may want to file a claim or lawsuit. The most common type of claim against the City of Chicago is a slip and fall claim. Some other types of injuries include:

  • Injuries sustained due to poorly lit streets or inadequately maintained sidewalks;
  • Construction accidents caused by poor regulation;
  • Car and bus accidents caused by a city employee;
  • Fire damage;
  • Contract disputes with the city of Chicago.

What Court will hear my lawsuit?

You'll have to file in the Court of Claims, a special group of seven judges who specifically hear cases against the government. These lawsuits include "all claims against the state for damages in cases sounding in tort, if like cause of action would lie against a private person or corporation." Yes, that's a lot of legal jargon. Basically, that court has jurisdiction for almost all claims against the government including:

  • Tort cases against the city of Chicago;
  • Cases arising under the Workers' Compensation Act involving state employees;
  • Contract disputes with the city of Chicago.

What are some restrictions against suing the City of Chicago?

There's quite a few. Here are a few highlights. There's a damages cap on how much you can recover for your injuries. The maximum amount is $100,000 regardless of how much you are claiming. Your injuries can total over 1 million dollars and it won't matter. The amount is set by law.

Also, act quickly. You only have one year from the date of your injury to send a notice of filing to the Court of Claims. If not, your case will be dismissed.

Some more bad news. You'll only be able to recover money to compensate you for your injuries. You can't sue for punitive damages. Why? Local governmental entities are immune from punitive damages under the Tort Immunity Act.

What should I do first if I am injured?

If you are injured, admit your are injured. Here are some other things to consider:

  • If you know you are injured, don't just brush yourself off and walk away;
  • Call the police and make sure and make sure they take an accident report;
  • Tell the property owner immediately, if possible;
  • See a doctor right away and follow the doctor's orders;
  • Write down every detail of the accident and gather contact information from any eyewitnesses who may have been present;
  • Take photographs of the accident scene as soon as possible to document the condition that caused your accident; and
  • Obtain a copy of the accident report.

If you've been injured on Chicago city property, you may want to consider contacting a personal injury attorney. Don't delay. Time is of the essence when making a claim against the government.

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