Is a City Liable for Its Failure to Provide a Particular Traffic Device ?

In West v. Kirkham, 147 Ill. 2d 1, 588 N.E.2d 1104, 167 Ill. Dec. 974 (1992), the plaintiff suffered an injury when, in the process of making a left turn, her vehicle collided with another vehicle. West, 147 Ill. 2d at 3, 588 N.E.2d at 1105. The plaintiff sued the city of Urbana, Illinois, claiming the city had a statutory duty to provide a left- turn arrow for her direction of traffic. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that because the city had installed a left-turn arrow for traffic traveling in the opposite direction at the intersection where the accident occurred, the city's error was an "improper placement." West, 147 Ill. 2d at 3-4, 588 N.E.2d at 1105. The Supreme Court of Illinois disagreed, finding the plaintiff's claim fits squarely within the immunity granted by section 3-104 of the Tort Immunity Act and the city is not liable for its failure to "provide a particular traffic device." West, 147 Ill. 2d at 6, 588 N.E.2d at 1106. Further, the supreme court stated as follows: "Section 1-101.1 of the Act states the expressed purpose of the Act. According to that section, the Act is intended to 'protect local public entities and public employees from liability arising from the operation of government.' (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 85, par. 1- 101.1(a).) The 'operation of government' necessarily encompasses the policy decisions made by a municipality; that is, those decisions which require the municipality to balance competing interests and to make a judgment call as to what solution will best serve each of those interests. The decision whether to install a traffic signal requires the municipal traffic planner to balance a host of competing interests, among them, safety, convenience, and cost. This is not the sort of decision that should be second-guessed by the courts. Were such second-guessing permitted, the traffic planner would be more concerned with avoiding possible litigation than with using his best judgment to properly balance the competing interests. Thus, instead of seeking the best balance of safety, convenience, and cost, the traffic planner would concern himself only with whether it could later be argued that the regulation provided could have possibly been safer. Excessive regulation, with no corresponding gain in safety, convenience, or cost efficiency, would be the natural result. the legislature recognized this by enacting section 3-104 and expressly immunizing the failure to provide a traffic-control device or sign." West, 147 Ill. 2d at 11- 12, 588 N.E.2d at 1109.