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07/31/87 Schmidt, Garden & Erickson v. Schmidt

July 31, 1987




511 N.E.2d 953, 158 Ill. App. 3d 931, 110 Ill. Dec. 776 1987.IL.1105

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Jack Hoogasian, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE HOPF delivered the opinion of the court. NASH and WOODWARD, JJ., concur.


This matter springs from a third-party action for contribution. Third-party plaintiff, Schmidt, Garden & Erickson, appeals from a trial court order which granted a motion for directed verdict made by third-party defendant, Hyre Electric Company, after both parties had rested. While Schmidt had presented its case in chief, Hyre rested without offering any evidence. Schmidt asserts that the trial court erred in granting Hyre's motion since a prima facie case for contribution had been presented and was not refuted by Hyre.

In 1976 Victory Memorial Hospital (Victory) retained the architectural firm of Schmidt, Garden & Erickson (Schmidt) to design the interior of the fifth and sixth floors of the west wing of the hospital. Schmidt prepared, among other things, the plans and specifications for the ventilation system which included the fire detection system. The fire detection plan was designed to detect smoke, sound an alarm, and close the smoke dampers. Jenkins and Boller (Jenkins), which was hired as general contractor for the project, retained Hyre Electric Company (Hyre) for the electrical work and Marley Cooling Tower Company (Marley) as the air conditioning contractor.

In February 1981 a fire occurred in a respiratory therapy classroom on the sixth floor of the west wing. The costs incurred by Victory to repair the fire damage were paid and/or reimbursed by the hospital's insurance company. Subsequently the insurer filed suit against Schmidt, in Victory's name, for damages resulting from the fire. Victory's complaint alleged that the proximate cause of the damages was the negligent design, construction, and installation of the fire detection system. Schmidt, in turn, sued Jenkins, Hyre, and Marley for contribution.

Pursuant to an agreement and a good-faith release, Victory dismissed its action against Schmidt in February 1986. The release recited that Schmidt and Jenkins jointly paid $160,000 to Victory in order to be released from all claims and that the other defendants in Schmidt's contribution action were also released. While Schmidt dismissed its third-party complaint against Jenkins and Marley, it reserved its action for contribution against Hyre.

At the trial of the contribution issue evidence offered during plaintiff's case showed that Schmidt's plans called for the smoke detector in the respiratory therapy room to be located on the intake, or suction, side of the ventilating fan. The detector itself was to consist of air sampling tubes which extended across the full width of the duct in which it was located. Hyre installed the smoke detector on the discharge, rather than the intake, side of the fan. The sampling tubes in the detector did not extend the full width of the duct.

By the time Donald Wasson, the president of Victory, entered the hospital on the morning of the fire, the firemen were already there. The sprinklers had gone off and water was running down the stairs and elevator shafts. Wasson testified that the door to the respiratory therapy room had been left open in violation of a hospital rule.

A few weeks after the real fire a test fire was set in the respiratory therapy room. Also, the exhaust unit was filled with smoke from a smoke bomb. The hospital's maintenance superintendent testified that nothing happened as a result of these tests. No further explanation was asked or given. Other testimony, elicited on cross-examination, indicated that the particular detector designated by Schmidt was not suitable for the location where it had been specified in the respiratory therapy room main air duct and that, during repair after the fire, other kinds of detectors were placed in different locations. While Hyre acknowledged an obligation to comply with manufacturer recommendations for installation, conflicting testimony was offered as to whether or not those recommendations were actually met.

The hospital president, Wasson, gave testimony regarding Victory's damages. He indicated that he had submitted a proof of loss statement to the hospital's insurance company for $195,034.97. After the repair work was done Victory received insurance proceeds in the total amount of $187,534.97.

Schmidt's expert, John Campbell, testified that the smoke detector had not been installed in accord with Schmidt's plans or specifications, manufacturer's recommendations, or good fire protection practice. He opined that if the detector had been properly installed it would have given an alarm within 30 to 60 seconds after the fire was fully burning. He also expressed the opinion that had the smoke detector been properly installed in the fan and had a hospital staff person responded to the alarm with a portable fire extinguisher, the damages would have been $3,000 to $4,000. In the absence of use of a portable extinguisher, however, he approximated $32,000 in damages between the alarm and the arrival of the fire department.

At the close of plaintiff's case Hyre moved unsuccessfully for directed verdict. Counsel for Hyre then requested time, and a short recess was taken. When court reconvened Hyre rested its case, and both parties renewed their motions for directed verdict. This time the court granted Hyre's ...

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