Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Schmidt v. Cenacle Convent

AUGUST 9, 1967.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of DuPage County; the Hon. WILLIAM L. GUILD, Judge, presiding. Reversed — judgment for defendant.


Rehearing denied September 15, 1967.

The jury awarded Rose Schmidt damages in the sum of $6,600 against the Cenacle Convent for injuries she sustained in a fall at the convent. The defendant appeals from a judgment entered on the verdict, alleging that the trial court erred in refusing to grant its motion for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

On May 1, 1963, a Wednesday, the convent was holding a "day of recollection." Such days were normally held in the middle of the week, and lunch was served in the dining room. The dining room also was used on the weekends for retreats. One of the Sisters called the plaintiff to ask her to help with the serving of the noon meal, which was customary. The plaintiff volunteered her services and was not paid; however, some of those who helped were paid.

The plaintiff was very familiar with the premises since she had been going to the convent regularly since it opened in 1939 and had worked as a server at meals on many prior occasions. On the day in question, she arrived at the convent at about 10:00 a.m. She went to the dining room at about 10:30 a.m. and proceeded to prepare the bread and butter plates and relish trays. At noon she went to the dining room where she, and the others who were helping with the main meal, were served lunch by one of the Sisters. After the meal the dishes were cleared, and the plaintiff proceeded to fill the water glasses at the tables for the group that was to be there for lunch. She carried a pitcher of water from table to table, filling the glasses, and it was while she was filling the glasses that she slipped and fell.

She stated that all at once she felt herself going; she fell to the floor with water from the pitcher falling over her; that as she fell it felt as it would if you slipped on ice; and that she didn't know whether or not any foreign substance was on her heel.

As to the condition of the floor, the plaintiff's testimony was much the same as the testimony of those from the convent. It was a hardwood floor and was well-polished or waxed in that it had a glossy appearance. The day in question was a Wednesday and it was customary to polish the floor on Monday or Tuesday after a weekend retreat. In the words of the plaintiff, the floor on the day in question, "didn't look very much different than the floor at any other time when I had been over there because the floor was always kept in perfect condition." Asked why she fell, the plaintiff answered, "Well, it was a smooth floor, it was a wood floor varnished and highly waxed," but she testified that she did not know what caused her to fall. Elsewhere she again testified that the floor on the day in question did not look any different than it did on other days when she had been there. It was clean and there did not seem to be anything on the floor when she was walking, nor did she regard the floor as slippery.

At the time in question, the plaintiff was 69 years old, active, was in good health and she was wearing orthopedic shoes with a rubber heel. As a result of the fall she broke her hip.

The defendant contends that the trial court should have directed a verdict or entered judgment non obstante veredicto. The Supreme Court has recently set forth the test by which we must determine such a contention. After noting that some uncertainty previously existed in this State as to the rule applicable to testing whether a verdict should have been directed or a judgment n.o.v. entered, and after an exhaustive review of the case law, the Supreme Court concluded that a judgment ought to be directed and a judgment n.o.v. entered "only in those cases in which all of the evidence, when viewed in its aspect most favorable to the opponent, so overwhelmingly favors movant that no contrary verdict based on that evidence could ever stand." Pedrick v. Peoria & E.R. Co., 37 Ill.2d 494, 229 N.E.2d 504 (1967).

The complaint charges that the defendant was negligent in causing or permitting (1) the dining room floor to be wet with water, (2) the dining room floor to be covered with a slippery fluid, (3) the dining room floor to be highly polished and slippery and unsafe for walking thereon, and (4) the pantry to have greasy or slippery food particles or foreign substances remaining on the pantry floor and the same became affixed to the plaintiff's shoe. Allegations (1), (2) and (4) above appear to charge that defendant permitted foreign substances to be on the floor. Many foreign substance cases state that the owner of a building owes a business invitee the duty of exercising ordinary care in maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Donoho v. O'Connell's, Inc., 13 Ill.2d 113, 118, 148 N.E.2d 434 (1958); Garrett v. National Tea Co., 12 Ill.2d 567, 573, 147 N.E.2d 367 (1958); Johnson v. Central Tile & Terrazzo Co., 59 Ill. App.2d 262, 274, 207 N.E.2d 160 (1965). As was stated in the Donoho case, supra, at page 118:

". . . Liability will be imposed where a business invitee is injured by slipping on a foreign substance on the premises if it was placed there by the negligence of the proprietor or his servants, or, if there is no showing how the substance got on the premises, if it appears that the proprietor or his servant knew of its presence, or that the substance was there a sufficient length of time so that in the exercise of ordinary care its presence should have been discovered."

The defendant does not challenge the status of plaintiff as an invitee for purpose of this appeal. Hence, it owed to the plaintiff the duty of exercising ordinary care to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

Plaintiff's difficulty is that there is absolutely no evidence of any foreign substance being on the floor. There is evidence that one of the Sisters cleared the table after those who were about to serve the luncheon had eaten. There was no evidence, however, that she had dropped or spilled anything on the floor. The fact that the Sister had walked over the floor carrying dirty dishes and that the plaintiff later fell on this floor does not justify the presumption, either by us or by the jury, that the Sister had dropped something on the floor. If there is any reasonable inference that might be drawn from the evidentiary facts, it is that the plaintiff, herself, may have spilled some water as she was filling the glasses on the table. This, of course, would be of no help to plaintiff's cause. It would indicate only her guilt of contributory negligence and that her injury was not the result of a breach of any duty owed by the defendant. Mick v. Kroger Co., 37 Ill.2d 148, 150, 151, 224 N.E.2d 859 (1967).

As to the allegation regarding the highly polished and slippery condition of the floor, the case of Dixon v. Hart, 344 Ill. App. 432, 436, 437, 101 N.E.2d 282 (1951) and the many cases thereafter make clear that merely waxing or polishing a floor is not negligence in and of itself. Some positive act of negligence must be shown such as using an excessive quantity of wax, or applying it unevenly, or freshly polishing a floor without warning to others, or treating a part of a floor and leaving part untreated, or polishing a floor where people would step on it unexpectedly. Dixon v. Hart, supra, at 435. The waxing of floors is too common and accepted a practice to give rise to liability. It must be shown that the owner ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.