Briana Collier

18 Ill.2d 11 (1959)
163 N.E.2d 89


No. 35249.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Opinion filed December 16, 1959.


Thomas Molitor was riding on a school bus with his siblings when the school bus ran off the road, allegedly due to negligence by the driver. The bus hit a culvert, exploded and burned. Most of the children on the bus were injured and burned. Thomas Molitor sustained permanent and severe burns and injuries as a result of the defendant’s negligence. Molitor’s father and family friend sued on his behalf for $56,000.


The defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that a school district is immune from liability for tort was sustained by the trial court, and a judgment was entered in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff elected to stand on his complaint and sought a direct appeal to this court on the ground that the dismissal of his action would violate his constitutional rights. The plaintiff recognized the rule, established by this court in 1898, that a school district is immune from tort liability, and asked the court either to abolish the rule in toto, or to find it inapplicable to a school district such as Kaneland. In this case the court recognized that "In reliance on the immunity doctrine, school districts have failed to adequately insure themselves against liability" and "have probably failed to investigate past accidents which they would have investigated had they known they might later be held responsible therefor," and conceded that the reliance test had been met. Yet, the court included within the ambit of its opinion the action of the plaintiff, while the elements of reliance and ensuing hardship were as real and present with this defendant as with other potential defendant school districts which escaped liability by virtue of the prospective application of the court's opinion. Under the court's decision only Thomas Molitor can recover, even though the other pupils were similarly injured in the same accident, the position of the court becomes even less tenable.


This case is important to educators because it resulted in five bills being adopted granting tort immunity to park districts, counties, forest preserve districts, and the Chicago Park District. It also passed a bill granting limited tort immunity to school districts and nonprofit private schools. These enactments became effective on divers dates in July, 1959.

Question: T/F

According to this case, one student may receive compensation for an injury/accident while others involved in the same accident may not.

Stacy Lynch


Supreme Court of Illinois.

Opinion filed December 16, 1959


Due to the negligence of a bus driver, a minor child was severely burned and injured when the bus left the road, hit a culvert, exploded, and burned. The parents of the child attempted to sue the school for a $56,000 settlement. The liability insurance held by the school would only pay out up to $20,000 per person with a $100,000 maximum per incident. After the trial and appellant court found in favor of the defendant because of immunity from tort liability, the case was presented to the Supreme Court of Illinois. The parents wanted to either have the immunity from tort liability found inapplicable in this case or have the immunity abolished.


The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower courts and remanded the case to the district court of Kane County with directions. The courts were instructed to set aside the order to dismiss the complaint and proceed in accordance with the views expressed in the Supreme Court's opinion. Several cases influenced the decision made by the Supreme Court such as; Dooling v. Overholser, (D.C. cir.) 243 F.2d 825; Shioutakon v. District of Columbia, (D.C. cir.) 236 F.2d 666; Durham v. United States, (D.C. cir.) 214 F.2d 862; Barker 28*28 v. St. Louis County, 340 Mo. 986; 104 S.W.2d 371; Farrior v. New England Mortgage Security Co. 92 Ala. 176, 9 So. 532; Haskett v. Maxey, 134 Ind. 182, 33 N.E. 358; Dauchey v. Farney, 173 N.Y. Supp. 530, as well as the decision of English law to dismiss the doctrine granting school districts immunity from tort liability.


This decision impacts teaching in a big way because it shows that the school district is responsible for the negligence of its employees and their actions. I think the rule of immunity for the school district was a way for schools to escape the liability for inadequate employees. Because there was no fear of legal liabilities they may have let things be that should have been taken care of long before an incident occurred. With the decision of the Supreme Court, school districts will be more diligent in who they intrust with the safety of the children attending their schools. It should inspire the schools to be more careful in who they hire and investigate incidents more thoroughly when something does occur because that may save them a law suit.

Quiz Question:

Why did the appellant court rule in favor of the defendant in Molitor v Kaneland?

a. Lack of evidence from the plaintiff.

b. School districts have immunity from tort liability.

c. The parents were asking for more than double the amount allowed by the liability insurance.

d. The plaintiff failed to mention the liability insurance.