Soon, anxious cyclists will dust off their bicycles and zip around various city and state maintained paths and trails to usher in the new spring. However, both experienced and new riders may fall victim to dangerous conditions leftover from the last year’s biking season or even new dangers created by the thawing out of winter’s freeze.
Imagine, you’re riding your bike when suddenly you’re propelled through the air after your front tire comes in contact with a severe buckle on one of these “city” bike paths/trails. You are seriously injured. Who is liable?
Illinois recognizes that many adventurists love to engage in recreational activities, located “in a truly natural setting.” Corbett v. County of Lake, 64 N.E.3d 90, 95 (Ill. App. 2d Dist. 2016). In addition, it recognizes that requiring a governmental entity to maintain these types of property would not only be burdensome in both time and money, but “would defeat the very purpose of these types of recreational areas.” Id. Therefore, it created an absolute immunity for injuries sustained on these types of properties.
Section 3-107 of the “Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act” declares that:
Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of: (a) Any road which provides access to fishing, hunting, or primitive camping, recreational, or scenic areas and which is not a (1) city, town or village street, (2) county, state or federal highway or (3) a township or other road district highway. (b) Any hiking, riding, fishing or hunting trail. 745 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 10/3-107.
However, this Immunity Act is not a complete bulwark to all injuries sustained on government sponsored bike paths. In Corbett v. County of Lake, the court makes clear that not all bike trails are protected by Section 3-107. In short, the court wants the plaintiff to take a good assessment of the landscape around the path.
The bike trail in Corbett was a city-made path that snaked through commercial and residential areas of the city. Although trees, shrubs, and bunnies could be seen while cruising the path, the court held that the presence of industrial and residential development all around a path negates any conclusion that it is located within a “natural and scenic wooded area.” Corbett, 64 N.E.3d at 97 (explaining that a forest preserve is a “forest,” even with a moderate degree of improvement within and without. An industrial/commercial/residential area is not a forest because it contains narrow strips of green space on which a few trees stand).
The court held in favor of Corbett, thus putting the County of Lake on the hook for her injuries and on notice to take better care of certain trails that it maintains.