Claims Against the CTA
Generally speaking, claims directed at local public entities can be more challenging due to the State's Tort Immunity Act. However, the CTA, as both a common carrier, as well as an entity that is organized under and subject to the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act, is specifically excluded from this Act. In other words, although the CTA is a legislatively created local government agency, it does not enjoy the same immunities as other governmental entities. This is not to say that a claim against the CTA automatically entitles a victim to recover compensation. Rather, it limits some of the obstacles typically involved with other types of government claims.
Despite exclusion from certain immunities, imposing liability upon the CTA does come with its own unique challenges. For example, the 2-year statute of limitations (SOL) applicable to most personal injury cases does not apply to claims against the CTA. Such claims must be commenced within 1-year from when the injury occurred. While the 6-month notice requirement that existed prior to 2009 has been repealed, claimants must still be cautious in adhering to the one year limitation, because failure to do so can result in claim denial or case dismissal.
Claims against the CTA can also be distinguished by the standard of care, or duty owed to others. In contrast to the ‘ordinary or reasonable care under the circumstances’ standard that applies to other persons or entities, the CTA is held to a much higher standard of care. This is because the CTA is a common carrier, defined as “one who undertakes for public to transport from place to place such person or goods of such persons as choose to employ him for hire.” See, Illinois Highway Transp. Co. v. Hantel, 323 Ill. App. 364 (Ill. App. Ct. 1944). The rationale behind this heightened duty of care is that the passenger must rely entirely on the carrier for his or her safety.
This duty applies not only to passengers while they are actually aboard a public transportation vehicle, but also while they are boarding or alighting from such vehicles. This duty continues until the passenger has had a reasonable opportunity to reach a place of safety. Once the passenger reaches a place of safety, though, the duty owed by a common carrier is reduced to that of ordinary care.
Despite duties imposed upon the CTA and other common carriers, this does not make them insurers of the absolute safety of their passengers. Rather, there must be a causal connection between the CTA’s negligence and the passenger’s injury. In some cases, the negligence of a common carrier can occur concurrently with some other cause, which together result in injury. What must be examined is whether the CTA exposed the passenger “to a danger which the exercise of reasonable foresight would have anticipated and due care would have avoided. See, Lutz v. Chicago Transit Authority, 36 Ill. App. 2d 79 (1st Dist. 1962). In other words, was the condition that caused the victim’s injury both foreseeable and avoidable by the CTA?
Given that the CTA provides approximately 1.7 million rides on an average weekday, their potential exposure to liability is enormous. Courts have recognized this, and have gone to great lengths to outline the parameters in which imposing liability upon the CTA is appropriate, and when it is not. In particular, the issues of whether or not a duty exists, or an injury was foreseeable (or avoidable) have been closely examined in a multitude of cases, the result of which has led to rules and exceptions that as applied can either limit or expand liability.
Some specific examples include open and obvious conditions; criminal acts or injury caused by third parties; natural accumulations; and passengers with physical or mental disabilities. Determining whether a rule or exception applies is highly dependent on the facts of your particular case. Often time, a slight variation in facts could alter a victim’s right and ability to seek and recover compensation. Further, a rule that creates an exception may also have its own exception(s).
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