Bike Paths, Cracks, and Injuries in Chicago


Bicyclists in Chicago face a lot of perils as they navigate the city streets.  Despite Chicago’s claim that it supports biking, the city does not do enough to protect bicyclists from danger.  Even on painted bicycle paths, bicyclists face many threats.  Squeezing in between parked and moving cars, cars turning right and left, car doors opening in bicyclists’ faces, meandering around various-sized potholes –  are all risks facing bicyclists in Chicago.  The Chicago personal injury law office of Zneimer & Zneimer helps many injured bicyclists each year.

Chicago boasts a Lakefront Trail, a shared path with pedestrians, roller skaters, and bicyclists along the lake. Biking there is not free from hazards.  Bicyclists face the dangers of colliding with other bikers, roller skaters, or pedestrians or falling because of cracks and potholes.

Injuries on the Lakefront Trail happen.  If a person suffers injuries there, the question is who pays for the medical bills, lost time from work, and any permanent damage that the injured biker may suffer.  Unlike a car-vs-bicycle collision where a car must have liability insurance, people using the shared path do not have to have insurance.   When a bicyclist gets injured because the path has a crack or a pothole, injured bicyclists can sue the Chicago Park District that maintains the path.  However, plaintiffs have a heavy standard to meet and show that the Chicago Park District was willful and wanton in its failure to maintain the path.

In a case involving the Lakefront Trail, a bicyclist got caught in a crack in the pavement and he fell.  The plaintiff sued the Chicago Park District, alleging that it had acted willfully and wantonly in failing to maintain the path in filling the crack right away. Therefore, the plaintiff alleged, the Chicago Park District was responsible for his injuries resulting from his fall.

The Chicago Park District asked the Court to enter a summary judgement in its favor.  The District argued that it had a blanket immunity under a law that immunizes local public entities for any injuries caused by a condition of a “road which provides access to fishing, hunting, or primitive camping, recreational, or scenic areas.” In the alternative, the Chicago Park District argued that even if the Lakefront Trail did not meet such definition, the District’s failure to maintain the trail was not willful and wanton.  The trial court agreed with the Chicago Park District and entered a summary judgment in its favor.

The bicyclist appealed, and the Appellate Court reversed the lower Court, finding that the Lakefront Trail is not a road that provides access for fishing, hunting, or primitive camping.  The Appellate Court also held that whether the Chicago Park District was willful and wanton is not so clear, so the case should go before a jury.

This time the Chicago Park District appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.  The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court in part.  The Illinois Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Court that the Lakefront Trail was not a “road which provides access to fishing, hunting, or primitive camping, recreational, or scenic areas.” However, the Illinois Supreme Court found that the Chicago Park District was not willful and wanton as a matter of law in its failure to fill the crack immediately.

The Court observed that “[c]racks and potholes in paved surfaces are an unfortunate but unavoidable reality…” but “there were no prior injuries involving the crack, which would have alerted defendant to any extraordinary risk or danger to the users of the path.” The Court found that the Chicago Park District acted quickly when it learned that there was a crack and there was no “indication or allegation of unusual delay or foot-dragging on the part of defendant. Indeed, the defendant’s request to contractors for bid proposals, the bidding process, and the repair of the crack were all completed within 30 days.” Although the defendant could have done more in barricading the crack or putting cones, the conduct of the Chicago Park District did not rise to willful and wanton conduct.

Thus, bikers watch out for potholes, and if you see one, call the city’s 311 phone to tell the Chicago Park District about the pothole or the crack.  This way, it will have a notice of the disrepair, and the clock from the date of the notice to willful and wanton “foot-dragging” begins to tick.

Our law firm handles many bicycle cases and is very familiar both with road hazards and legal hazards.  If you need assistance with a bike injury, call the Chicago bicycle attorneys, Zneimer & Zneimer.  We can’t help with the road hazards but can help you with the legal hazards.

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