Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed June 21, 2012


Harris v. Thompson, 2012 IL 112525

Appellate citation: No. 5-09-0625 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).


      JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride dissented, with opinion.


      In Metropolis in Massac County, a collision occurred in 2004 when an ambulance answering an emergency call drove through a stop sign at an intersection and the center of its side was hit by a passenger vehicle which was proceeding, with the stop sign in its favor, through the intersection. Everyone in both vehicles was injured. The ambulance driver and Massac County Hospital, for which he worked, were both sued by the driver of the passenger vehicle, who recovered a $667,216.30 award for negligence after a jury trial. The appellate court affirmed.

      The claim had been made in defense that, because it was a municipal hospital, the Tort Immunity Act offered protection against negligence claims both to this employer and its employee-driver. However, in the circuit court, defense motions to dismiss pretrial and also for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict had both been denied. The appellate court affirmed.

      The appellate court addressed the immunity defense by holding that this situation was governed, not by the Tort Immunity Act, but by the Vehicle Code. The Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act protects local public entities and their employees from liability for injuries “caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle or firefighting or rescue equipment, when responding to an emergency call,” while the Vehicle Code imposes duties on drivers of both public and private emergency vehicles to refrain from negligence. The appellate court selected the Vehicle Code as controlling, relying on an earlier 1997 decision from its own appellate district which has not, however, been followed since.

      In this decision, the supreme court said the evidence was insufficient to establish the willful and wanton conduct that might have precluded municipal immunity. As to the negligence claim, the court held that the statutes at issue here are not in conflict and that it did not need to decide which is more specific. Rather, each governs in its own sphere. Pursuant to the plain language of the Tort Immunity Act, the legislature has chosen to grant immunity from negligence liability to public employees and employers, such as the driver and hospital here, and this result cannot be viewed as abrogated by the Vehicle Code. Bradshaw v. City of Metropolis, 293 Ill. App. 3d 389 (1997), on which the appellate court relied in finding as it did, is overruled. Because the decision here does not establish a new rule of law, the plaintiff’s request for nonretroactive application of this ruling was rejected, and the judgments of the circuit and appellate courts were reversed.