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01/28/88 John Huber Et Al., v. Frank B. Seaton

January 28, 1988





519 N.E.2d 73, 165 Ill. App. 3d 445, 116 Ill. Dec. 483 1988.IL.98

Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County; the Hon. Roland A. Herrmann, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE UNVERZAGT delivered the opinion of the court. LINDBERG, P.J., and INGLIS, J., concur.


Plaintiffs, John and Joan Huber, bring this appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (107 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)) from the judgment of the circuit court of McHenry County granting the defendant's, Frank B. Seaton's, motion for summary judgment on all counts against him of the amended complaint. The complaint set forth a cause of action in negligence against Seaton based on theories of a master-servant relationship, negligent hiring, failure to supervise and res ipsa loquitur. Co-defendant Richard Janowitz is not a party to this appeal.

Janowitz was hired by Seaton to perform a plumbing repair on a residence at 134 Bright Oaks Circle in Cary, Illinois. The residence was owned by Seaton and leased to the Hubers. A propane torch allegedly was left ignited and unattended in the residence. A fire occurred in the premises, and plaintiffs alleged they incurred damages in the amount of $55,000. Seaton answered the complaint, generally denying the allegations of negligence against him in count I except for his ownership of the premises and the Hubers' tenancy. Seaton did not answer counts II and III of the complaint, which purported to state a cause of action in negligence against Janowitz. Seaton's subsequently filed motion for summary judgment was made on the basis Janowitz was an independent contractor and not his employee or agent. Seaton later also filed a motion to dismiss for insufficiency count IV of the plaintiffs' amended complaint, which purported to set forth a cause of action for negligence against him under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. The court granted Seaton's motion for summary judgment as to all counts against him. Plaintiffs' first appeal from the court's judgment was dismissed by this court on Seaton's motion as appellee that the court's judgment did not dispose of all issues or parties in the case. Subsequently, upon plaintiffs' request, the trial court included the necessary language pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (107 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)).

Attached to Seaton's motion for summary judgment were excerpts from the depositions of Janowitz and Seaton. Janowitz stated in his deposition that he had done some repair and plumbing work both at Barrington Square Five and Bright Oaks. He also stated he does all the plumbing around his own house and had done a few plumbing jobs for Frank Seaton.

After the time he started his employment at Ragnar Benson, he utilized proposal forms for the side jobs he did. It was a standard form he first made up when he started R & A Maintenance. He may have written up a form for Frank Seaton the first time he worked for him, but he had not used a form ever since. He had known Seaton for between five and seven years. He thought Seaton initially got his name out of the yellow pages. He stated he had done plumbing, landscaping, carpentry, painting and tree-cutting work for Seaton. He did work for Seaton at Seaton's house in Cary and at Seaton's townhouse at Bright Oaks in Cary (the Hubers' residence). Seaton would call Janowitz up, tell him he had a job for him to do, Janowitz would do it, and he would give Seaton the bill.

In May 1984, he charged Seaton between $10 and $12 per hour plus material. On the day of the fire, May 6, 1984, he was taking the outside faucet off and putting a new one in. Seaton called him about a month before that date and said the faucet needed to be fixed because it leaked when it was turned on. Seaton did not provide him with any tools; he had his own. Seaton did not meet him at the residence; he just told Janowitz to fix the problem, whatever it was. He had a van which he used to transport his tools. He brought with him all types of plumbing tools, pipe wrenches, crescent wrenches, channel locks, propane torch, screwdrivers, fittings, brass fittings, copper pipe and copper connectors.

According to the excerpts of Seaton's deposition, he called Janowitz, who had installed a dishwasher in the residence while Seaton's daughter was living there the year before, and told him something was leaking. He asked Janowitz to go to the residence, check out the leak and fix it. Janowitz installed the dishwasher on his own. He got Janowitz' name out of an ad in the local Cary paper for him to do some work at Seaton's own residence. He first met Janowitz in 1978 or 1979. Janowitz had his own home repair business at that time under the business name "R & A." Janowitz worked out of his own home in Cary, and he had a partner whose first name was Anthony.

As to special skill or expertise with regard to home repair, Seaton said he thought Janowitz was a "jack-of-all-trades" since the work Janowitz did for him was in the carpentry and plumbing area, but Janowitz also helped move furniture, and he installed aluminum windows in Seaton's basement. Janowitz did some work at Bright Oaks prior to the Hubers moving in; he installed the dishwasher and replaced a faucet in the kitchen sink.

Seaton stated he never received from Janowitz any kind of brochure or written document which set forth his qualifications or skill or background, and Janowitz had not been referred to him by anyone else. Janowitz gave him a written estimate for the work on the basement storm windows, but arrangements for other work was oral. As to whether Janowitz was bonded or insured, Seaton stated Janowitz did make some reference to it when he first began doing work for him; Seaton did not recall whether Janowitz offered the information that he was insured, or whether he inquired of him as to that fact. Seaton did not know any of the details of the type of insurance Janowitz had.

At the time of the occurrence in May 1984, Janowitz was no longer in business with Anthony, although Anthony worked with Janowitz part-time on occasion. Seaton believed that Janowitz was employed by someone else and that he was now doing the home repair work part-time. He did ...

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