On January 22, 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court abolished the public duty rule in Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection, 2016 IL 117952. This decision could have a wide ranging impact on both citizens and local governments throughout the state, most notably, police and fire departments. The Illinois public duty rule previously provided immunity to municipalities, townships, counties, special districts, and their employees from the failure to provide general police and fire protection. The Illinois Supreme Court determined that the rule had outlived its usefulness as: (a) it had become incompatible with Illinois’ tort and immunity laws; (b) the rule had been inconsistently applied by courts both inside and outside of Illinois; and (c) the Illinois legislature has provided enough protection to Illinois’ government entities through the tort and immunity act.
In Coleman, a 58-year old woman dialed 911 claiming she could not breath and requested an ambulance. There was some confusion regarding Ms. Coleman’s address when the emergency crews arrived. They knocked on the door they believed belonged to Ms. Coleman, but then left without attempting to force their way into the home. Ms. Coleman’s neighbors also called 911 informing the dispatcher that the emergency team that arrived did not enter the home. Ms. Coleman’s husband arrived at the home after the emergency team had left to find his wife completely unresponsive. She was transferred to a hospital and pronounced dead.
Ms. Coleman’s family filed a lawsuit against various entities involved in the incident, including, the fire district, ambulance service, first responders, and local 911 communications center alleging that both negligence and willful conduct had caused Ms. Coleman’s death. The court ruled in favor of these defendants on the willful counts pursuant to the “public duty” rule finding that the responding entities did not owe any duty of care to Ms. Coleman. Ms. Coleman’s family appealed and, eventually, reached the Illinois Supreme Court. It was here that the Illinois Supreme Court determined that the “public duty” rule should be abolished, paving the way for citizens to hold local government entities accountable for willful acts of wrongdoing.
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