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Stewart v. Duplessis

JUNE 12, 1963.




Appeal from the Superior Court of Cook County; the Hon. HENRY W. DIERINGER, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


Rehearing denied July 8, 1963.

This is a personal injury action. Defendant, Elmer DuPlessis, appeals from a $60,000 verdict and judgment entered against him in favor of plaintiff for the loss of an eye.

On August 27, 1951, defendant (doing business as A.D. Plastering Company) was the plastering contractor for a home under construction. Plaintiff, then a child of 11, with four friends (ages 10 to 15 years), entered the house at the invitation of the owner's son. Defendant's employees had left the premises at about 4:30 in the afternoon, and the boys entered the house at about 7:00 in the evening. Upon entering the living room, the boys saw a wooden platform about 4' x 4' standing on wooden horses. On the platform was a moist white substance, of the consistency of softened butter, formed in a circle about three feet across. The white substance was plasterer's lime, left by defendant's employees to "slake" overnight in preparation for its use the following morning. It was covered by some bags thrown across it.

Hydrated lime, as used by plasterers, is a caustic alkaline substance available as a fine white powder. Before use in plastering, this powder must be mixed with water and left to stand for a period, usually overnight. This is called "slaking" the lime. When mixed with water in the correct proportion, the lime has the consistency of softened butter. After standing overnight, the slaked lime is mixed with plaster and more water, and the resulting mixture is then ready to be applied. After the plaster has been added to the slaked lime, the mixture begins to harden rapidly.

Shortly after entering the living room, the boys commenced a game of hide and seek. While plaintiff was out of the living room, the other boys began making "snowballs" out of the slaking lime; as plaintiff entered the hallway to meet the others, he was hit on the right side of his face by some of the substance thrown by the others. He started screaming and ran out onto the front porch, where the other boys attempted to remove the substance from his face and eyes. After relatively unsuccessful attempts, plaintiff went home. His mother attempted to remove the substance from his eyes with a towel and hot water. After a short time, he was taken to a clinic, and thence to the emergency room of a hospital, where an eye specialist treated him. On October 12, 1951, another eye specialist removed his right eye.

Defendant contends that the trial court should have directed a verdict for defendant or, alternatively, that a new trial should be granted due to errors at the trial.

Defendant first argues that he owed plaintiff no duty "to take any safeguards to prevent plaintiff from injury," since defendant did not have control of the premises where the injury occurred, and thus had no authority to prevent plaintiff from entering the premises. The same contention was made by the defendant lumber company in Kahn v. James Burton Co., 5 Ill.2d 614, 126 N.E.2d 836 (1955), and was there rejected by our Supreme Court. In the Kahn case, a child of eleven was injured at a construction site when a pile of unevenly stacked lumber shifted. The lumber company had no control of the premises, and its only contact with the work being done there consisted of its delivery of the lumber. In rejecting the lumber company's contention that its only duty was to the owner of the premises and to the contractor, our Supreme Court stated (p 620):

"The position cannot be sustained. In so far as the lumber company is concerned plaintiff was not a trespasser; and if it should have reasonably anticipated that children might come upon the premises and be injured, the fact that it did not own or control the premises cannot relieve it from liability for the consequences of its negligence."

In the instant case, a number of witnesses testified that there were numerous children in the neighborhood, and that they played in the vicinity of the house under construction. The occurrence witnesses testified to previous visits to the home. Defendant himself testified that he visited the site every day, to inspect the work being done by his employees, and he indicated that he was familiar with the neighborhood and the presence of children there. From the testimony the jury could conclude that defendant knew or should reasonably have anticipated the presence of children on the premises. This being so, a duty arose to exercise ordinary care to avoid injury to children thus present. Kahn v. James Burton Co., 5 Ill.2d 614, 126 N.E.2d 836 (1955); Halloran v. Belt Ry. Co. of Chicago, 25 Ill. App.2d 114, 166 N.E.2d 98 (1960).

Defendant next contends that hydrated lime is neither "imminently nor inherently dangerous," and that he therefore had no duty to guard or protect it and his failure to do so could not be negligence on his part. Given the testimony adduced at trial, the question is whether leaving slaking lime on premises frequented by children created a condition hazardous to children. We believe this is a question of fact to be resolved by a jury. As stated by our Supreme Court in Kahn v. James Burton Co., 5 Ill.2d at 622:

"The creator of certain conditions dangerous and hazardous to children because of their immature appreciation of such dangers and hazards must be held to a certain standard of conduct for the protection of such children in accordance with the attendant circumstances and conditions. Account must be taken of the cost and burden of taking precautionary measures and of the right of families and society to rear and develop children with freedom of activity in their communities, without being subject to unreasonable risks which might cause serious injury or death to such children."

We conclude that defendant had a duty to exercise ordinary care with respect to plaintiff, and that whether he discharged such duty was a question of fact for the jury. "A verdict may not be set aside merely because the jury could have drawn different inferences or because judges feel that other conclusions than the one drawn would be more reasonable." Lindroth v. Walgreen Co., 407 Ill. 121, 135, 94 N.E.2d 847 (1950).

Defendant's final point in support of his contention that he was entitled to a directed verdict is that the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries was the act of his companion who threw the lime. Defendant thus argues that the act of the thrower was an intervening cause. However, "the intervention of independent concurrent or intervening forces will not break causal connection [between the original wrong and the injury] if the intervention of such forces was, itself, probable or foreseeable." (Johnston v. City of East Moline, 405 Ill. 460, 464, 91 N.E.2d 401 (1950).) The test to be applied is whether the first wrongdoer might reasonably anticipate the intervening cause as a natural and probable consequence of his own negligence. (Merlo v. Public Service Co., 381 Ill. 300, 45 N.E.2d 665 (1943).) Whether the act of ...

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