A woman whose foot was severed after a firework, detonated by two men visiting a Chicago park, exploded near her, cannot hold the Chicago Park District liable for her injuries, an appellate court has ruled.

Plaintiff Kristina Perez had sued the Chicago Park District, saying the district was negligent and should be found liable for her injuries. An earlier version of the suit also named the city of Chicago and two men, identified as Thomas Lagowski and Krzysztoff Gros, as defendants.

According to court documents, Perez celebrated Independence Day 2013 at Chicago’s West Lawn Park, where Lagowski and Gros were also celebrating. The men were lighting fireworks in violation of park district rules, which prohibit the use of fireworks on public property without a permit. One of the fireworks exploded next to Perez, severing her right foot and part of her lower leg.

The park district moved to dismiss Perez’s initial complaint, arguing that the state’s Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act protected it. Before a Cook County judge could rule on the park district’s motion, Perez settled with the two men and voluntarily dismissed the city as a defendant.

The trial court then granted the park district’s motion to dismiss and denied Perez’s request for leave to file an amended complaint – what would have marked the fourth time she altered her lawsuit.

A three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court noted the trial court did not state its reasons for the dismissal. However, in its motion to dismiss, the park district relied on the general immunities provided by the tort immunity act; Perez had argued the law contains exceptions that applied to her case.

In a 2014 story in the Chicago Tribune, neighbors of the park said illegal fireworks displays had gone on there for years, and park district employees cleared away fireworks debris every year when cleaning up the park after the Fourth of July. Perez argued that by knowingly allowing dangerous fireworks on its property, the park district committed “willful and wanton conduct.” The district denied this.

The court sided with the park district, basing its decision largely on the legal difference between a “condition” and an “activity.”

“Perez can only claim the willful and wanton exception … if her injury was caused by a condition of the park district’s property, not an activity conducted on it,” the appellate justices wrote. “Lighting fireworks on public property may be a dangerous activity, but it is not a dangerous condition.”

Perez could not support her argument that the park district failed to supervise Lagowski and Gros because it had no legal obligation to supervise them in the first place, the court wrote. Similarly, her case for willful and wanton conduct under a section of the law that addresses “hazardous activities” falls flat because the hazardous activity in question - the lighting of fireworks - was not conducted by the park district or one of its employees.

“Even if we assume that setting off fireworks is a hazardous activity under the Act, Perez cannot prevail … because the park district did not ‘conduct,’ sanction or license that hazardous activity,” the court wrote. “The park district forbade the use of fireworks on its property without a permit.”

Justice Michael B. Hyman wrote the opinion of the court, and justices P. Scott Neville and Daniel J. Pierce concurred.

Perez was represented in the case by the Moor Law Office, of Chicago, according to Cook County court records. 

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