Articles Posted in Premises Liability

In a recent decision, a state appellate court dismissed a firefighter’s lawsuit after she was run over by a truck while sleeping at base camp. After a fire broke out in a national forest, firefighters were deployed to fight the fire. A base camp was set up for firefighters so that they could stay near the forest. The fire protection districts, who were managing the fire, were required to set up a quiet, shaded sleeping area for firefighters at the camp.

Fire TruckWhen the plaintiff returned to camp, the designated sleeping area was full. Some of the firefighters went to sleep by the horse barns, but she did not want to sleep there due to the conditions, and she asked her supervisor if she could sleep in the infield. Her supervisor agreed. Some others slept there as well. On the next night, after fighting the fire all day, she returned to base camp at around 9 p.m. She again asked to sleep in the infield, and her supervisor agreed. At around 10 p.m., another employee drove a water truck across the infield and ran over the woman. The truck crushed the woman’s chest, ribs, lungs, and left shoulder, and fractured her back. It also permanently damaged her heart, lungs, and eyes.

The woman sued the fire protection districts, among others, claiming she was injured because the district created a dangerous condition on public property. The defendants claimed they were immune from suit because the firefighter’s rule prevented the woman from recovering compensation. The state’s court of appeals agreed with the defendants and dismissed the lawsuit, finding the case was barred under the firefighter’s rule.

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In some circumstances, going to trial is the best way for plaintiffs to obtain the compensation they deserve. But in other cases, plaintiffs may want to avoid trial and can obtain the results they want without having to wait until the end of a trial. In Illinois, a plaintiff can dismiss a claim against a defendant and resolve the case through an agreed-upon settlement. In some cases with multiple defendants, a plaintiff may be able to obtain a settlement against one defendant and proceed to trial against the others. Some settlements require court approval, while others require only the agreement of the parties involved.

TrackIf a plaintiff agrees to a settlement, the circuit court retains jurisdiction for at least 30 days over any motion seeking relief from the judgment. For example, a party can return during that time to enforce a settlement or to try to void the settlement, due to fraud or duress. After this time, the court has more limited jurisdiction over the case, but it may be able to decide certain issues related to the judgment.

Woman Injured by Discus at School Track Meet Obtains $350,000 Settlement

An 83-year-old woman and her husband were attending a high school track meet when the woman was hit by a student’s discus. According to one news source, the woman filed a lawsuit against the school and against the athletic association, alleging they failed to keep spectators safe.

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Beach umbrellas can be a great way to avoid getting a sunburn at the beach. But on a windy day, they can also pose a significant danger. A strong wind can turn an umbrella into a dangerous object, with the potential to cause serious injuries. In addition to beach umbrellas possibly being lifted out of the sand, umbrellas can also come out of outdoor dining tables or even outdoor store displays.

Beach UmbrellaLawsuits against individuals or business owners based on an umbrella injury generally allege that the defendant was negligent in properly securing the umbrella. Even the government is a potential defendant in beach umbrella cases. If the incident occurs on a public beach, for example, the government may be responsible, particularly if the lifeguard was aware of the potential hazard caused by the wind but failed to minimize the danger.

In order to prove negligence, a plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to protect them against an unreasonable risk of harm, the defendant breached that duty, and an injury occurred that was proximately caused by the breach. The plaintiff has the burden to prove all four elements in a negligence claim. This means that the plaintiff has to present evidence that would allow a rational juror to reasonably conclude each of the elements of the claim is met.

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Many people assume that since lead paint is no longer legal, there is nothing to worry about. However, although lead paint has been banned since 1978, many homes still have lead paint underneath the current coat of paint.

Paint CanA Landlord’s Duty to Tenants

A landlord has a duty to tenants to keep the property in a certain condition and to make certain disclosures to tenants. If a home was built prior to 1978, renters must receive a lead-based paint pamphlet and any known information about the presence of lead-based paint. In Illinois, a landlord also has a special duty to minors. A landlord may be liable for injuries if the landlord knows or has reason to know that minors frequent the premises, there is a dangerous condition, minors are likely to be injured based on their failure to appreciate the risk, and the expense of remedying the condition is slight compared to the risk to minors.

Lead Paint Poisoning Claims

Generally, lead poisoning cases are based on the theory of negligence. Claims may include a negligent failure to maintain safe premises, negligent misrepresentation, and negligent repairs. Plaintiffs may also be able to assert a breach of the covenant to repair and the implied warranty of habitability, as well as fraud and product liability claims, among others.

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In a recent case, a woman sued a store alleging negligence after she fell in a parking lot. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was shopping with her husband in Hodgkins, Illinois when she fell after stepping on some small rocks in a parking lot. The plaintiff suffered a serious injury as a result of her fall and filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store.

PebblesApparently, the area where she fell was outside the entrance to the defendant’s home improvement store. Near the entrance, there was a planter with a small tree inside, which was filled with decorative river rocks similar to those on which the plaintiff had stepped. The store also sold these rocks. Witnesses testified that the planter needed to be refilled from time to time, and one of the store’s managers had seen children playing in the planter on occasion. The store’s general manager testified that he walked through the store and the parking lot every day to check for safety hazards. In addition, he testified that other employees walked through the parking lot during the day and were required to report any hazards.

In response to the claim against it, the store moved for summary judgment, and a federal court granted the motion. A federal appeals court agreed and determined there was not sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on whether the store’s negligence caused the woman’s fall. The court explained there was no direct or circumstantial evidence indicating the store was responsible for the rocks being in the parking lot, rather than the rocks’ presence being caused by another customer. Although the woman argued an employee’s action could have caused the rocks to be there, it was only speculation. In addition, there was no evidence that the store knew or should have known of the danger of fallen rocks. Furthermore, there was no evidence of any other incidents involving rocks in the parking lot or of fallen rocks or past complaints. As a result, the case was dismissed.

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In a recent case, Murphy-Hylton v. Lieberman Management Services, Inc., the Illinois Supreme Court considered whether Illinois’ Snow and Ice Removal Act prevents plaintiffs from suing for negligent maintenance of premises that causes ice or snow accumulation. In that case, a woman brought a premises liability lawsuit against a condominium association in Carol Stream, Illinois after she fell on an icy sidewalk.

According to the facts outlined in the court’s opinion, the area had a major snowstorm, and the condominium association had cleared the sidewalks. Eleven days later, the plaintiff fell and broke her leg, knee, and hip. The plaintiff alleged that the condominium association negligently designed the area to allow for the proper drainage of the snowmelt, failed to repair the sidewalks, failed to comply with maintenance codes, and failed to prevent the unnatural accumulation of ice.

Icy PavementThe trial court determined the claim was barred because residential owners and operators are immune for negligent acts under Illinois’ Snow and Ice Removal Act. However, Illinois’ Supreme Court found the claim was not barred. It explained that the Snow and Ice Removal Act confers immunity from claims caused by icy sidewalks due to negligent snow and ice removal efforts. However, the court explained that the plaintiff’s claim here did not allege negligent snow and ice removal efforts, but instead it alleged negligent design and maintenance of the area. Considering the intent of the Act, the Court found the Act does not preclude claims caused by icy sidewalks resulting from other negligent premises liability theories.

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People sign contracts all the time. When someone purchases a ticket to a concert or installs a new software on their computer, they probably signed the contract without giving it much thought. It is only later when an issue arises that the terms of the contract really become important. However, a recent case shows how sometimes even if someone has agreed to the contract’s terms, the terms may not be legally enforceable.

TrampolineIn Alicea v. Activelaf, LLC, a Sky Zone trampoline park required customers to complete a waiver prior to entering the park. A woman signed the agreement before her husband took their children to the park. Later that day, one of the couple’s sons was injured while he was jumping on a trampoline. The family filed a lawsuit against the park. A clause in the agreement stated that customers waived the right to a trial and that the customers’ claims would be decided through arbitration instead. Accordingly, the park argued that the case should be decided through arbitration because of the clause in the agreement.

However, that state’s supreme court decided that despite the fact that the woman signed the contract, the clause was unenforceable. First, the court stated that although its state laws favored the enforcement of arbitration contracts, the arbitration language was camouflaged within the agreement, and as a result, the mother did not truly consent to the arbitration provision. Second, the provision also did not specifically state that both parties were bound to arbitration—instead, it stated only that patrons would be required to engage in arbitration. For these reasons, the court found the clause was unenforceable under the state’s laws and allowed the case to proceed in the courts.

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Property owners have more to worry about than just their own safety and the safety of the property. They also have to worry about the safety of other people who come on their land, sometimes even when a third party causes an injury.

Shopping CartsIllinois premises liability claims are governed by the Premises Liability Act. The Act describes the duties owed by owners and occupiers of land. In Illinois, an “invitee” is a class of persons who go on the property of another for a purpose connected with the owner’s business or for an activity permitted by the owner on the premises. However, under Illinois law, owners and occupiers of land are not the insurers of the safety of people who come on the premises. Rather, the property owners owe a duty of “reasonable care” to them.

Generally, in order to hold a property owner liable, a plaintiff must show that a condition presented a risk of harm, the owner knew or should have known about the condition and its risk, the owner should have expected that people on the premises would fail to recognize the danger or protect themselves, the owner was negligent in some way, the plaintiff was injured, and the injury was caused by the property’s condition. As a result, landowners may have a duty to take measures to protect people who come on the property or to warn them of risks. Sometimes a risk is so obvious that an owner does not need to warn people about it, but it depends on the specific situation. A recent case in Ohio is an example of a case in which a grocery store failed to adequately warn or instruct its customers on how to use its grocery carts safely.

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In a recent case in front of an appellate court, a woman slipped on a piece of watermelon at a grocery store and then sued the store for her injuries. About six feet away from where the woman had fallen, a man had been handing out samples of watermelon to customers. However, the woman did not know how long the watermelon had been on the floor, and there was no evidence that the watermelon was on the floor for any length of time. The woman argued that the store was negligent because it knew or should have known that the floor was wet and posed a danger to customers. She argued that handing out watermelon samples in a high-traffic location created a dangerous condition for customers.

Watermelon PiecesThat state’s supreme court granted a dismissal of the case. The court found that there was no evidence that the store created the dangerous condition through its employee’s distribution of the watermelons. It also found that the store did not have constructive knowledge of the dropped watermelon because there was no evidence of how long it was there. Finally, the court rejected the woman’s argument that the state should adopt the mode-of-operation rule, which looks at a business’ particular mode of operation in creating a dangerous condition, and under which the plaintiff is not required to prove that the store had notice of the condition. Since it rejected this approach, the case failed.

Mode of Operation Liability and the Illinois Approach

Generally, in slip-and-fall cases, a plaintiff must prove that the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition that caused the injury. That means that the plaintiff must prove through some evidence that the store had actual knowledge of the condition or that it existed for long enough that the store had constructive knowledge, or should have known, of the condition.

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Strange, unexpected acts happen every day. Thus, even when an individual or entity may have acted negligently, they are not always held responsible if an unusual or unexpected event occurs, thereby causing harm. In order to prove a negligence claim in this type of situation, a plaintiff must prove the elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. Additionally, in order to have a successful claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s negligent conduct caused the injuries at issue. Causation in a negligence claim requires a showing of both factual cause, or “but-for” cause, and proximate cause, or “legal” cause. Generally, this requires that the plaintiff show that the resulting injuries were foreseeable, rather than merely a remote result of the breach.

Shopping CartsHowever, if another act occurs that intervenes after the defendant’s conduct or contributes to the harm, that act may amount to a “superseding” cause, which can cut off the defendant’s liability. In order to be a superseding cause, the subsequent act must break the chain of causation between the defendant’s negligent conduct and the resulting harm. That is, generally it must be something that could not be reasonably anticipated by the defendant.

The Effect of “Acts of God” on Causation in Negligence Claims

Generally, an individual is not expected to foresee unusual or extreme conditions, often referred to as “acts of God” in legal claims. If one of these conditions occurs, usually it will amount to a superseding cause because it was not foreseeable. This means that the defendant may not be liable for the resulting harm. However, whether an occurrence is an “act of God” or not depends heavily on the facts of the situation and what is expected under the circumstances. Also, it is often considered a fact for a jury to determine, which would require the case to go to trial in order to be decided.

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