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Gille v. Winnebago County Housing Authority

JANUARY 29, 1969.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. FRED J. KULLBERG, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.


This is an action for personal injuries suffered by the 9 1/2-year-old plaintiff on July 14, 1953, on the premises of a housing project owned and operated by the defendant, Winnebago County Housing Authority, and formerly known as the Camp Grant Barracks. On the date of the accident the plaintiff finished supper about six o'clock and went to the home of a young friend, Douglas Almquist, who lived in the project. Master Almquist's mother gave him paper and trash to burn. Together, the two boys went to a fifty or fifty-five gallon oil drum which had the top cut out and holes cut in the bottom and sides. Two of these drums had been provided outside of each of the 22 buildings in the housing project, having been placed there by the defendant's employees. The side holes, cut for the purpose of creating a draft, were about eight to fourteen inches from the bottom. Holes in the bottom of the drums were intended to drain any water. Tenants burned rubbish and trash in the drums every day pursuant to the instructions of the defendant. The drums were emptied every week.

Master Almquist ignited the contents of the barrel by throwing a burning piece of paper into the container while both boys stood within a foot and a half from the drum. Plaintiff testified that flames shot out from the bottom of the barrel igniting his trousers about the knee and that, in bending over to extinguish the burning denim, the flames spread to his shirt. Plaintiff admitted that in his deposition of February 12, 1968, he had stated that he "couldn't tell" if his pantlegs had caught on fire. Also on cross-examination, plaintiff testified that there was no drum behind his family's residence in the project and that he had never burned papers in a barrel behind his residence, but also admitted that his deposition indicated that there had been a drum provided for their building and that he had, on occasion, burned papers in it at the request of his parents and, at least once, upon the instruction of one of defendant's employees.

The treating physician testified that on the date of the incident he examined the plaintiff and found first, second and third degree burns on the face, including burned ears; burns on the anterior and lateral surface of the chest, along the right wrist and hand and the left wrist and hand. There were no burns on his legs, to the best recollection of the treating physician.

During the course of the trial the attorneys for both parties executed a stipulation printed by the court which provided as follows:

"When jury have agreed on and signed verdict they may deliver same to bailiff and then be excused without order of court."

"Verdict to be later brought into Court by bailiff."

"Polling of jury waived."

"After verdict is signed, bailiff or any juror may tell result of verdict to anyone."

Counsel for both parties signed the stipulation which was dated February 21, 1968, and filed on that date.

At the conclusion of the case the jury retired to the jury room. After their deliberation the foreman handed the sealed verdict to the bailiff and the jurors left the jury room and disbanded. When the verdict was opened it was discovered that a not-guilty finding on behalf of the defendant had been returned and was signed by the foreman only. The jury was never requested, nor did it in fact return to the courtroom, to pronounce in open court or otherwise revise the verdict. Judgment was entered on the verdict. It is maintained that the verdict is void and ineffective because it was signed by the foreman only.

The signature of the foreman only to the verdict form, in and of itself, does not constitute reversible error. In the case of Chicago City Ry. Co. v. Cooney, 95 Ill. App. 471 (1900), affd 196 Ill. 466, at page 476, 63 N.E. 1029, the court considered an argument that such a verdict was insufficient, and said:

"It is argued that the written verdict returned by the jury was insufficient, in that it was signed by the foreman only, and not by all of the jurors. There is no merit in this contention. The return by the foreman in open court, in the presence of all the jurors, was sufficient. A written verdict is not essential and a return of the verdict by the foreman ore tenus is enough. Here, the writing signed by the foreman having been announced in open court as the verdict in the presence of all the jurors, there was a sufficient return of the verdict."

This same language was quoted with approval and as authority in the case of Patterson v. Dempsey, 2 Ill. App.2d ...

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