Illinois Contactor Not Liable When Following Engineer’s Specifications

By: Christopher Puckelwartz

The Illinois Appellate Court First District reaffirmed Illinois Supreme Court precedent regarding the lack of liability for various contractors to third parties when adhering to engineering specifications in Bitsky v. City of Chicago, et. al., 2023 IL App (1st) 220266.

In Bitsky, Plaintiffs were walking down a sidewalk in Chicago when Plaintiff Thomas Bitsky stumbled and fell forward into Plaintiff, Lisa Bitsky, who fell and sustained left leg injuries requiring surgery. 

The area of the accident was part of a 2011 water restoration project the City of Chicago undertook to replace and restore underground water mains and construct sidewalks that comply with ADA requirements. The City’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) hired an architect to prepare ADA design standards (CDOT standards) for contractors to use when constructing ADA sidewalks and sidewalk ramps.

The City hired an engineering consultant, CTR, on the project, who was responsible for developing design and construction drawings and identifying corners that needed restoration to bring the sidewalks into compliance with ADA and CDOT standards. A general contractor, Reliable, was hired and in turn subcontracted with another company, Sanchez, to build ADA compliant curbs and sidewalks. Sanchez verbally subcontracted the concrete work to yet another company, Precision.

Plaintiffs sued the City, CTR, Reliable, Sanchez and Precision for negligence in constructing the sidewalk.  After settling with the City and CTR, Plaintiffs proceeded against the contractors, who all filed Motions for Summary Judgment alleging that they followed the plans and specifications provided by the City and CTR when installing the sidewalk and therefore owed no legal duty to Plaintiffs.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant contractors, finding that because they followed the requirements of their contracts and the plans, specifications and instructions the City and CTR provided them, they had no duty to Plaintiffs, specifically citing to the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Hunt v. Blasius, 74 Ill. 2d 203 (1978). Further, the trial court noted that the City and CTR inspected and approved the defendant contractors’ work.

Plaintiffs argued on appeal that a material question of fact existed as to whether defendant contractors deviated from the plans when they constructed the sidewalk and that the trial court erred in relying on Hunt and instead should have applied traditional negligence factors.  The First District affirmed the trial court’s ruling that Hunt controlled and that the defendant contractors had no duty to Plaintiffs where they followed the City’s plans, specifications and instructions.

The First District relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s holding in Hunt that, ““[a]n independent contractor owes no duty to third persons to judge the plans, specifications or instructions which he [or she] has merely contracted to follow. If the contractor performs the specifications provided to it “carefully,” the contractor is justified in relying upon the adequacy of the specifications unless they are so obviously dangerous that no competent contractor would follow them.”

The First District observed that in Bitsky, as in Hunt, defendant contractors presented uncontroverted evidence of having followed the City’s and CTR’s plans, specifications, and instructions.  Although Plaintiffs’ expert issued a report that the elevated sidewalk did not meet CDOT ADA standards, as the trial court noted, the City and CTR inspected the area and approved all of the work as compliant with CDOT and ADA standards.

The First District noted that nothing in the record suggested that the plans the City and CTR provided to defendant contractors were “obviously dangerous.” Although Plaintiffs asserted that the elevated sidewalk was “unreasonably dangerous,” they did not argue that the plans and specifications were so obviously dangerous that no competent contractor would follow them.  Accordingly, the First District affirmed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment on behalf of the defendant contractors.

Chicago, Illinois 312-377-1501 | Crown Point, Indiana 219-488-2590
Indianapolis, Indiana 219-488-2590 | Milwaukee, Wisconsin 414-758-3367

Chicago, Illinois


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