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Lanning v. Harris

August 29, 2003

SHANE LANNING AND MICHELLE HOUSTON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
ANDREW HARRIS AND CITY OF OTTAWA, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit LaSalle County, Illinois No. 2001-LM-552 Honorable Robert L. Carter, Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Lytton

UNPUBLISHED

Plaintiffs, Shane Lanning and Michelle Houston, sued defendants after they were injured in an automobile collision with defendant, Andrew Harris, who was leading officers on a high speed car chase. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant, City of Ottawa (Ottawa), was negligent in its pursuit of Harris. Ottawa filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that plaintiffs failed to allege the officers' conduct was willful and wanton as required by the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/2-202 (West 2000)) (Tort Immunity Act). The trial court denied the motion and, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308, certified the question for appeal.

FACTS

During the morning hours of September 30, 2000, plaintiffs were traveling down Illinois Highway 23 near an intersection with Route 66 in Pontiac. Harris was quickly approaching that intersection, attempting to elude LaSalle County deputies and Ottawa police officers. Harris had stolen a car in DeKalb and was leading the officers on a three-county chase. Harris lost control of the vehicle and struck the plaintiffs, causing them injury.

Plaintiffs sued Harris, LaSalle County and Ottawa. In their complaint, plaintiffs alleged that Ottawa was negligent in its pursuit of Harris. Ottawa filed a motion to dismiss claiming that plaintiffs failed to allege that the city's conduct was willful and wanton as required by the Tort Immunity Act. Plaintiffs argued that the appropriate standard of care in police chases is ordinary negligence. The trial court denied the motion, and, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308, certified the following question for appeal:

Whether the proper standard of care in a case involving potential tort liability for a municipality arising out of a high-speed chase by a municipal police officer is the standard of reasonable care as outlined by section 11-205(e) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-205(e)[West 2002]) or the standard of willful and wanton misconduct as outlined by section 2-202 of the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/2-202) [(West 2002)].

ANALYSIS

Since the issue on appeal concerns a question of law certified by the trial court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 and because it presents a question of statutory interpretation, we review it de novo. Weatherman v. Gary-Wheaton Bank of Fox Valley, N.A., 186 Ill. 2d 482, 480 (1999).

The Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) allows the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle to disregard some traffic laws when either responding to an emergency call or pursuing a known or suspected violator of the law. 625 ILCS 5/11-205 (West 2002). The Code also states that "[t]his section shall not operate to relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway." 625 ILCS 5/11-907(b) (West 2002).

The Tort Immunity Act, on the other hand, states that "[a] public employee is not liable for his act or omission in the execution or enforcement of any law unless such act or omission constitutes willful and wanton conduct." 745 ILCS 10/2-202 (West 2002).

Plaintiffs claim that these statutes overlap and that the vehicle code provides the appropriate standard of care for police chases. Defendants argue that the Tort Immunity Act controls the standard of care for public employees involved in a police chase.

Four appellate districts have reached this issue. The majority agree with defendants' construction of the statutes. See Sanders v. City of Chicago, 306 Ill. App. 3d 356 (1st Dist. 1999); Carter v. DuPage County Sheriff, 304 Ill. App. 3d 443 (2d Dist. 1999), and Young v. Forgas, 308 Ill. App. 3d 553 (4th Dist. 1999). Those courts analyzed the Code and the Tort Immunity Act and found no actual conflict between them. Each statute "stands in its own sphere" and the immunities afforded by each serve different purposes. Carter, 304 Ill. App. 3d at 450. This line of reasoning holds that the Code's provision applies to drivers of all authorized emergency vehicles, while the Tort Immunity Act only protects public employees.

The Fifth District, in Bradshaw v. City of Metropolis, 293 Ill. App. 3d 389 (1997), concluded the statutes provided two different standards for the same conduct, but that ordinary negligence was the proper standard. The court applied the rule of statutory construction which provides that when a general statute and a specific statute both apply to a case, the more specific statute governs. It found the language of the ...


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