County’s Negligent Snow Plowing Results in Collision & a $1.2 Million Verdict

After a significant snowfall, the Cook County workers plowed the snow off the main streets in the south suburbs of Chicago, near Matteson, Illinois.  Plaintiff’s investigation showed that, at one intersection, however, the driver only plowed the snow into a big pile just off the lane of traffic.  The snow was plowed so that drivers on the local road that were stopped at the stop sign at the highway could not see the traffic from their left.  In fact, the snow was piled so high and so close to the lane of traffic on the highway that the local road driver would have to pull their car into the intersection to see the traffic coming from their left.  That traffic would be traveling at 45 miles per hour and would not be able to see the local driver until he pulled out into the intersection.

Plaintiff’s investigation showed that the plaintiff approached the intersection and stopped his car at the stop sign.  Unable to see any traffic due to the snow, he slowly moved his car forward to see around it. When he moved his car up to see the traffic coming from the left, it was too late.  A driver on the highway could not react in time to avoid slamming into the exposed side of plaintiff’s car.  The impact crushed plaintiff’s ribs fracturing them in several places.  This made it extremely difficult and painful for the plaintiff to breathe, a condition called a “flailed chest.” Taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, plaintiff eventually recovered after enduring months of severe pain.

After a trial, the jury entered a verdict against the County for 1.2 million dollars but reduced the award by 50% for plaintiff’s comparative negligence.  Cook County appealed the verdict.

At the time of the collision, an appellate court decision in the Second District had ruled that the government is protected from lawsuits by the Tort Immunity Statute for its failure to remove snow from the roads.  However, plaintiff was able to defeat the County’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis of the testimony by the county snow plow drivers that they were obligated to not only move the snow off the road but to make sure that the plowed snow did not prevent drivers at the intersections from seeing cross-traffic when stopping at stop signs.  The First District appellate court in this case found that the Second District’s decision was not applicable based on the testimony at trial by the snow plow drivers’ testimony that they were required to move the snow not only off of the road but off the rumble strip and even the shoulder of the road specifically for the purpose of allowing the drivers approaching the intersection to see and safely avoid the cross-traffic.

Cook County appealed the Appellate Court’s decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.  The Illinois Supreme Court specifically rejected the Second District’s opinion concerning the application of Tort Immunity to governmental entities with respect to plowing the snow.  Instead, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted plaintiff’s position that if the governmental entity was going to plow the snow it had to do so in a non-negligent manner, including avoiding creating reasonably foreseeable hazardous conditions as occurred in this case.  The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed plaintiff’s verdict against Cook County. Timothy Heath represented the plaintiff from the original filing of the case all the way through the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision, handling not only the trial but also all of the briefs and arguments on appeal.