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Emily Ottesen Writes Case Summary for Jackson v. Kane County

Jackson v. Kane County, 2021 IL App (2d) 210153

The Second District’s December 29, 2021, opinion in Jackson v. Kane County, et al. joins the growing body of Illinois case law analyzing the issue of willful and wanton conduct during police pursuits. In Jackson, the appellate court affirmed the circuit court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint, which asserted allegations of willful and wanton conduct against the Kane County Sheriff’s department. In the case, Plaintiff argued on behalf of her decedent sister that two Kane County deputies acted in a willful and wanton manner by engaging in a police pursuit, which purportedly caused decedent to crash into a highway median, sustaining fatal injuries.

Significantly, this case reinforces plaintiff’s burden under Illinois’ fact pleading standard, and emphasizes the importance of a well pleaded complaint in order to make a preliminary showing of willful and wanton conduct. The appellate court is critical of plaintiff’s conclusory assertions of willful and wanton conduct, opining that the complaint “[relies] on speculation and conclusory allegations.” The Jackson court determined that by omitting facts such as the posted speed limit, distance traveled, or the amount of time the decedent was allegedly followed by the Sheriff’s deputy, Plaintiff failed to establish that a police pursuit even occurred.

In Illinois questions of willful and wanton conduct are normally questions of fact, and can only be resolved through summary judgment or a 2-619 motion to dismiss if the evidence “so overwhelmingly favors the movant that no contrary determinations can be made.” See Urban v. Village of Lincolnshire, 272 Ill. App. 3d 1078, 1094 (1995). This makes Jackson v. Kane County a promising alternate avenue for arguing a plaintiff’s claim is factually insufficient in the context of willful and wanton police pursuit cases. Finally, the case emphasizes the plaintiff’s burden to plead sufficient facts before defendants are required meet the high burden of showing conduct was not willful or wanton as a matter of law.