Appeal from the Superior (now Circuit) Court of the County of
Cook; the Hon. HERBERT C. PASCHEN, Judge, presiding. Judgment
MR. JUSTICE BRYANT DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.
This appeal comes from a judgment for the defendant entered on a jury verdict October 15, 1963, in the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois. Along with the general verdict returned by the jury was a special interrogatory: "Did the parties to this suit have an agreement to the effect that the defendant would not be responsible for the loss of the property in question?" The jury answered, "Yes."
The LaSalle Extension University filed a complaint in the Superior Court consisting of two counts. The first count alleged that the appellant had delivered to the appellee, B.F. Shaw Printing Company, certain forms from which the company was to print lessons to be used in the appellant's correspondence school business. This count further alleged that the appellee had not returned them and stated that the value of the materials delivered to the appellee was $80,000.
The second count alleged that Shaw had procured various insurance policies which not only covered property owned by it but also property which it "held in trust or on commission." LaSalle claimed it was entitled to share in the proceeds of these insurance policies to the extent of the damage it suffered.
The pertinent points in the answer filed by B.F. Shaw were that there was an agreement between the parties that Shaw would not take out insurance to cover the articles in its custody and that LaSalle had agreed to take out insurance on its property, and that it was not negligent in its care of the appellant's property. With regard to the insurance, it was claimed that the amount recovered on the claims was not enough to reimburse Shaw for the losses it sustained. It was also claimed that at no time did the appellee submit claims or proof of loss to its various insurance carriers for damage or destruction of property not owned by it.
The plaintiff-appellant, LaSalle Extension University, is a correspondence school which teaches a wide range of courses from high school subjects to law. The lessons used in the various courses are printed. The University apparently had the lessons typeset by another company and sent the completed page form to Shaw for printing. Shaw did not do all the University's printing work, but seemingly handled a major part of it. The University also supplied the printer with the paper to be used in preparing the lessons.
On February 16, 1958, there was a fire at the printing plant which virtually destroyed the premises and everything in it. The cause of the fire has never been explained. The University's theory as to the first count of its complaint is that a bailee who fails to return property to a bailor is presumably guilty of having lost the property through his own negligence, and that the printing company did not present evidence to rebut the presumption of its negligence.
The printing company does not take issue with the first part of the appellant's theory that is that a bailee of property is presumably guilty of negligence if he finds himself unable to return it but claims that it offered an explanation from which the jury was properly able to determine that the loss was not occasioned through its negligence.
In support of its proposition that the defendant was negligent, the University points to these facts in the record:
1. inflammable paper and ink were stored inside the plant;
2. because of the plant's location at the end of the water main there was little pressure in the pipes, thus making it difficult for the firemen to combat the blaze;
3. there was no sprinkler system in the plant;
4. the heating plant was in operation at the time of the fire, the ...