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Haymes v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 22, 1968.

KENNETH HAYMES, APPELLANT AND CROSS APPELLEE,

v.

CATHOLIC BISHOP OF CHICAGO, APPELLEE AND CROSS APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. GORDON B. NASH, Judge, presiding.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE SOLFISBURG DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied January 28, 1969.

Plaintiff, Kenneth Haymes, a minor, was awarded damages of $10,000 in a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County for injuries sustained in an accident in the St. Pancratius School, allegedly caused by the negligence of defendant, Catholic Bishop of Chicago. Plaintiff has appealed directly to this court, pursuant to Rule 302(a), on the issue of damages only, challenging the constitutionality of the provision of the School Tort Liability Act limiting liability of nonprofit private schools to $10,000. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959, chap. 122, par. 825B.) Defendant has filed a cross appeal contending that the verdict is not supported by evidence, and that there were reversible trial errors.

The trial court rejected plaintiff's argument that section 825 B of the School Code limiting damages to $10,000 is unconstitutional in that it violated section 22 of article IV of the Illinois constitution and the "establishment of religion" clause of the Federal constitution.

Those constitutional questions are presented by plaintiff's direct appeal which is limited to the issue of damages only; however, inasmuch as defendant's cross appeal asserts that the record contains no basis for any liability, that issue must be determined first, and it requires a review of the evidence.

At about 3 P.M. on January 18, 1960, a snowy and overcast day, plaintiff a 7th grade student at St. Pancratius School, entered the cloakroom adjoining his classroom to obtain his coat prior to going on duty as a patrol boy. The cloakroom had one window, which was next to one of the doors connecting the room to the classroom, so that when the door was open the window was partially blocked. The cloakroom had one electric light which, according to plaintiff's testimony, was never lit, and was not lit on the day in question. The teacher didn't remember whether it was lit.

According to plaintiff's testimony the room was "dark" and the floor was "slippery." The floors of the cloakroom and classroom were linoleum. They had been waxed and buffed in September, 1959, and about once a month thereafter the "scuff marks" were removed with candle wax. That process involved grating church candles of beeswax onto the floor, and directing the children in their stocking feet to stomp the wax into the floor in the area of the scuff marks, and having them sweep it up the following day. Plaintiff testified that he and other pupils had helped the teacher in such activity after school. According to the testimony of plaintiff's teacher, the room was maintained by the pupils and the same practice of removing scuff marks was followed in other classrooms. The teacher, Sister Obrenski, testified that the floor in the cloakroom was not slippery and she didn't know if anyone had slipped in any other room.

When plaintiff went into the cloakroom to get his coat, he slipped on a coat on the floor, and slid on his back some eight feet across the cloakroom, until his feet struck the wall with such force that he did a backward somersault. The coat was wrapped around his leg, and he was unable to move. Pupils passing the cloakroom doorway reported the accident to the teacher, who called the fire department and plaintiff's parents. Plaintiff was taken in an ambulance to the emergency room of the Holy Cross Hospital, where he was treated by Dr. William F. McDonald, the only medical witness in the case.

Inasmuch as the essential issues of the case involve the constitutionality of a statute and the existence of liability, the medical evidence will not be detailed, except to note that the plaintiff sustained a fractured hip, entailing two and possibly three operations, with permanent damage, and had to attend schools for physically handicapped children.

On the basis of substantially the foregoing evidence, along with evidence of medical, hospital and outpatient expenses incidental to the surgery and treatment, the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff for $10,000, which sum they were instructed not to exceed.

With respect to the issue of liability, presented by defendant's cross appeal, the law imposes on defendant a duty to plaintiff and other pupils to use reasonable care in the maintenance of St. Pancratius grammar school; and failure to do something which a reasonably careful person would do, or doing something which a reasonably careful person would not do under circumstances similar to those shown by the evidence, constitutes negligence.

The charge and evidence of negligence here related to the lack of illumination in the cloakroom, and the slippery condition of the floor on which a coat had fallen.

In our view, the jury could have concluded that the cloakroom was not reasonably illuminated, not only from plaintiff's testimony that the room was "dark" so that he didn't see the fallen coat on which he slipped, but also from the evidence that the single electric light in the room was not lit, and the door from the classroom blocked over half of the only window in the room, as shown by the exhibit, and that any natural light was further diminished by the snowy and overcast weather that day.

In our judgment there was ample evidence from which the jury could have concluded that the illumination of the cloakroom, or the condition of the floor, maintained by children rather than adults, or those factors considered jointly, constituted negligence on the part of defendant in the maintenance of the cloakroom which defendant knew was constantly and hurriedly used by children. Therefore, we cannot accept defendant's argument that there was no ...


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