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03/31/88 Margaret Pinto, v. John Demunnick Et Al.

March 31, 1988





523 N.E.2d 47, 168 Ill. App. 3d 771, 119 Ill. Dec. 579 1988.IL.470

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. John G. Mackey, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court. JOHNSON, J., concurs. JUSTICE JIGANTI, Dissenting.


Defendant Village of Alsip (Village) appeals from a judgment entered upon a jury verdict which found that the Village negligently failed to inspect and maintain its storm sewers and parkways, thereby causing personal injuries to plaintiff Margaret Pinto (Pinto) when she fell in a parkway sinkhole. Because we conclude that Pinto's evidence failed to establish that the Village had notice that the parkway was not in a reasonably safe condition prior to the injury, we reverse and remand.


On September 18, 1982, Pinto was leaving the apartment of friends who lived in Alsip, Illinois. Her husband accompanied her to an automobile parked in front of the apartment building. To reach the car, she crossed the front lawn of the building, the sidewalk, and the adjoining parkway located in front of the property owned by John and Bernadette DeMunnick. It was dark and she was looking straight ahead at the car. As she stepped back to allow her husband to open the door, she fell into a hole in the parkway that was about six to eight inches in diameter and covered with grass. As a result of the fall, she sustained injury to her left knee, requiring surgery and physical therapy, and incurred medical expenses totaling $8,014. She also has permanent scars and indentations on her legs and is unable to enjoy many day-to-day activities because of the injury. Pinto brought this negligence action against the private landowners, John and Bernadette DeMunnick, and the Village of Alsip.

The following pertinent evidence was presented by Pinto. When the hole first appeared in June 1982, DeMunnick filled it. It reappeared in July or August, and again he filled it. His wife, Bernadette, did not notice the hole five days prior to the accident when she mowed and fertilized the lawn. After the accident, DeMunnick inspected the hole; it was about five to six feet deep, running towards the street. Once again, DeMunnick filled the hole.

It was not until sometime after the injury that DeMunnick notified the Village of the recurring hole. Upon this sole notification, Jack Redmore, Village superintendent of public works, went to the site, inspected the hole, and found that it was six to eight inches in diameter, about two feet deep, and ran towards the street. DeMunnick and Redmore lifted the two manhole covers on the street and looked into the sewer. DeMunnick testified that under one of the manhole covers the sewer was full of mud and dirt, while Redmore testified that there might have been some mud in the system but that he did not recall any quantity of it. Redmore stated that if there was a crack in the storm lines or a separation in the pipes, there would be mud and dirt in the pipes. However, he said it was normal to have some mud in the pipes since the storm lines drain the streets.

Redmore instructed two Village employees to dig up the DeMunnicks' parkway, inspect the storm line that ran underneath the parkway, and investigate the cause of the hole. When the employees went to the site and inspected the hole, they found that it was about a foot deep and was not an animal hole. They dug down to the pipe to see whether the pipe ring was broken and found there was no break in the pipe. They did not replace any pipe. However, they did repair a part of the pipe ring which one of them had damaged in the process of digging out the pipe.

Redmore testified that storm pipes were placed four to five feet under parkways, were 12 inches in diameter, and were six feet long. Water seepage from broken or cracked storm lines causes "sinkholes." Sinkholes drop straight down into the ground, in contrast to gradual dips or depressions, Redmore said. Redmore agreed that sinkholes were a common problem with the Village drainage system, but that this was the first complaint of a "sinkhole on the parkway" received by the Village. He also testified that sinkholes are easily detectable by looking in the sewer to check for an accumulation of mud. The Village, however, did not have any inspection system. Redmore indicated there were about 73 miles of streets, 2,500 manhole covers, and 15,000 inhabitants in the Village.

At the close of Pinto's case in chief, the DeMunnicks and the Village each moved for a directed verdict. The trial court denied both motions. The jury found for the plaintiff, against all the defendants, and awarded Pinto $125,264.03 in damages. The jury also found that Pinto was not contributorily negligent and attributed 30% of the negligence to the DeMunnicks and 70% to the Village.

The Village appeals from the trial court's denial of its motion for a directed verdict, the judgment entered on the verdict, and the order ...

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