Court sides with city over street lighting, crosswalks

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal-injury. His column “Law and Wellness” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

The Illinois Appellate Court handed down its decision in the case of Warning v. The City of Joliet on Aug. 22. The case arose from a personal-injury action where the plaintiff’s mother was struck by a car as she was crossing the road via a crosswalk. The plaintiff’s mother died a few weeks later from her injuries. The plaintiff alleged that her mother’s death was as a result of the city’s negligence. At trial, a directed verdict was entered in favor of the defendant.

The trial court held in the city’s favor finding that the city did not owe a reasonable duty of care relating to street lighting and crosswalks on the street in question, that no evidence was presented that the city had actual or constructive notice that certain streetlights were inoperable and that no evidence was presented that the city failed to make reasonable inspection of the sidewalk and failed to erect additional signage around the crosswalk. The plaintiff appealed on the basis that the court had erred in these findings.

Various witness testimony was given at first instance regarding the street lamps on the street in question. The driver of the car involved in the incident said that she believed that the lighting conditions at the time of the incident impaired her ability to see the pedestrian. A police officer testified that there are no official police procedures for reporting street light outages. An attending police officer noticed that a street lamp was not working south of the crosswalk. A witness who worked as a security guard close to the scene testified that he did not know which lights were out at the time of the accident or for how long they were not working. A city of Joliet mail room employee testified that she forwarded reports of street light faults to ComEd or the city public works. The city keeps a log of street light faults but no faults were recorded for the street in question. Testimony was also given that markings for this particular crosswalk went above and beyond the requirements that were in place at the time the crosswalk was constructed.

It was reaffirmed on appeal that the plaintiff failed to present a prima facie case as she failed to demonstrate that the defendants owned the street light in question or that they had a duty to maintain said street light. The court also agreed with the trial court on the point that the city did not have actual notice that the light close to the sidewalk was defective at the time of the accident. The plaintiff had argued that the city had constructive notice of the defect. The appellate court stated that constructive notice can only be established “where the dangerous condition is shown to exist for a sufficient length of time to impute knowledge of its existence to the defendant.” It was found that constructive notice could not be established in the present case.

The plaintiff further argued the city was negligent for failing to paint a downward arrow on the roadway but this argument failed as the city had met the requirements at the time the crosswalk was installed.

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