(CN) — The estate of an Illinois man who died after crashing his bicycle cannot win a wrongful death suit against the bike event’s organizer, a state appeals court ruled.
James Lorenc rode in the “Cruise the Creek” event, sponsored by the Forest Preserve District of Will County, in October 2013.
According to the lawsuit, a trail sentinel “suddenly stepped out into the middle of the trail, blocking the trail and waving his arms, thereby causing the riders to quickly apply their brakes and swerve in order to avoid a collision with the trail sentinel.”
Lorenc hit the brakes, swerved and crashed. His estate said his injuries led to his wrongful death.
The Forest Preserve District sought dismissal, saying Lorenc was not wearing a helmet despite its “strong recommendations.”
It also claimed immunity under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act.
According to a volunteer coordinator, the sentinel had stepped into the road despite being instructed not to do so. The sentinel was posted to inform riders that they were about to cross a bridge.
Felix Orasco, who also rode in the event, said a staff member stepped into the road at one point and motioned for the cyclists to stop. This caused one of his fellow riders to stop suddenly, flip over the handlebars and land on his head.
Despite this testimony, the trial court dismissed because the estate did not prove that the forest preserve engaged in “willful and wanton misconduct.”
The Third District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed on July 22, in an opinion written by Justice William E. Holdridge.
“The record establishes that the defendant took several steps to ensure the bicyclists’ safety, namely, placing trail sentinels to notify the bicyclists of upcoming changes in the path and utilizing trail sentinels to assist the bicyclists in other capacities,” he wrote.
Instead of willful and wanton misconduct, the district’s action could better be described as “inadvertence or incompetence,” Holdridge said.
He also found the district entitled to immunity because the sentinels had discretion over their actions.
“Simply put, the pleadings did not establish that the trail sentinels’ actions were specifically prescribed and involved no exercise of discretion,” Holdridge wrote “Instead, they served as a ‘courtesy’ to the riders and received basic training to guide their actions.”
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