The Law Q&A | How Illinois law views obstructed views of traffic

The Law Q&A | How Illinois law views obstructed views of traffic

Have you ever been hideously annoyed when you're pulling out of a parking lot onto a street and both directions of your view are blocked by hedges and/or signs of the property owner/user?

Under Illinois law, do they have a duty to keep your vision clear of traffic/pedestrians trundling along the crossing street/sidewalks which abut their property?

Nope.

Except when yep.

As a general proposition, property owners/occupiers have no duty to trim their vegetation so as to maintain the visibility of passing motorists/pedestrians. So if I pull out of the mall lot and collide with a passing car because neither of us could see the other past the beautifully coifed conifers, neither that motorist nor I can bring a claim against the property because of the lack of visibility.

This is true even at railroad crossings where you can't see the train for the forest of weeds.

True also when blitzing down the country road past numerous intersections with no lateral view down the crossing road because of the tall corn (or plush soybeans for that matter). The farmers aren't generally required to chop back the corners, though many considerate thinking ones do so.

The big exception to this rule (there are always exceptions to every rule of law, aren't there?) are local ordinances. Larger populated municipalities will often have regulations requiring property owners to maintain their vegetation so as to not impede the view of traffic/rail signs or signals.

Many go further and say that the property owner/occupier must maintain the vegetation so as to not create a hazard to motorists or pedestrians on the abutting roadways/sidewalks. If your property is subject to such ordinance by virtue of its location, then there is a duty to keep it trimmed (or to remove it).

Violation of the ordinance does not mean you are automatically liable to another person for some injury claimed to have been caused by the impaired vision. But it gets their foot in the legal door for a lawsuit based on such claim. The injured party still has to prove you failed to use ordinary care in the maintenance of the vegetation at issue.

The location and placement of signs are almost always subject to zoning laws. But if the law that allows the signage is silent as to the specifics of vision impairment, well, then have at it. Make it big to publicize your business — who cares if someone gets killed because they couldn't see pulling out of your law office parking lot. It's all about the making of money, isn't it?

But beware. There is law that says even if you have a permit to put an object into a public right of way, then you are under a general duty to use due care so as to not create a hazard to others. So, let's try to put that tent awning for the barbecue street festival in a place that doesn't impede the vision of nearby traffic, shall we?

Let's try not to lose vision of the passing Passat because of the vision of the pulled pork.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.

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