Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit, LaSalle County, Illinois. No. 89-L-52. Honorable Robert L. Carter, Judge Presiding.
Rehearing Denied July 11, 1994. Petition for Leave to Appeal Denied October 6, 1994.
Present - Honorable Kent Slater, Presiding Justice, Honorable Allan L. Stouder, Justice, Honorable Michael P. Mccuskey, Justice
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stouder
JUSTICE STOUDER delivered the opinion of the court:
The plaintiff, Bryan Baldwin, was injured in a fall on the premises of the defendant, the Twin Rivers Club, a not-for-profit corporation doing business as and also known as, the Ottawa Lions Club. He brought a two-count complaint alleging negligence and violations of the Structural Work Act (740 ILCS 150/1 et seq. (West 1992)). The circuit court of La Salle County granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the Structural Work Act claim and the cause proceeded to trial on the negligence count. Subsequently, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appeals from both the circuit court's decision to grant summary judgment and the jury's verdict. We affirm.
By way of background, the record shows that the Ottawa Lions Club has been in existence since the 1930's. During much of that time the Lions held there meetings in various locations, including local restaurants. In due course, it was decided that a permanent meetinghouse should be built and a building fund was established. In the early 1980's, land in the northeastern part of Ottawa was donated to the Lions. A building contractor was engaged to construct the basic one-story structure or shell. Lions Club members and others were to finish the interior - flooring, drywall, painting, etc. This phase of the project was completed either through further donations of material or as funds allowed. The work was done through the volunteer efforts of the members.
In 1983, on advice of counsel, members of the Lions Club formed the Twin Rivers Club, a not-for-profit corporation. The basic purpose of this corporation was to hold title to the real estate and the clubhouse built thereon. This was done so that if the local Ottawa Lions Club were ever to disband, ownership of the property would not revert to the International Lions organization. In other words, the property would remain in local hands for the benefit of the local community.
The record shows the furnace unit for the clubhouse was housed in the unfinished attic of the building. This attic space was accessible by way of a of pull-down staircase which closed up into the ceiling near the eastern outside wall of the building. In the attic, loose planks were laid across the rafters in a rather haphazard manner. The rafters ran in an east/west direction. Items such as candy and Christmas decorations were stored in the attic on these planks.
The plaintiff joined the Lions Club in 1987. He also became a member of the Twin Rivers Club building committee. During the summer of 1988, an air conditioning unit was donated to the Lions. Because he had experience in heating and air conditioning work, the plaintiff either volunteered, or was asked if he would volunteer to install the unit. The work entailed certain modifications to the furnace unit in the attic. Building committee chairman, Ron Laatz, agreed to assist the plaintiff. Laatz had no experience with such installations.
On September 7, 1988, the plaintiff and Laatz worked on the modifications of the furnace unit. The two men climbed in and out of the attic several times during the course of the work. One of those trips required them to move a coil in excess of 50 pounds up into the attic and over to the furnace unit.
To enter the attic, the men climbed the steps facing in an easterly direction and entered the attic through the opening formed when the pull-down staircase unit was pulled down from the ceiling. On reaching the top of the steps, they had to turn because the east slope of the roof met the eastern wall of the building near the head of the steps. They had to walk in a westerly direction on the boards which formed the framing for the pull-down staircase and the adjacent east/west running rafters. The opening was approximately 5 feet in length measured from east to west. On reaching the western edge of this frame, they had to maneuver across an area which extended approximately 40 1/2 inches to the west of the staircase opening, and was approximately 20 inches wide. There were no permanent wooden rafters or beams within this area, only the plasterboard and drop-ceiling tile forming the first floor ceiling below and insulation. The furnace unit was approximately 8 to 10 feet north of the staircase opening.
In his deposition, attached to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff maintained that two wooden planks extended in a east/west direction across the 40 1/2 inch expanse. At the subsequent trial, the plaintiff continued to assert that at least one plank was arranged in an east/west direction in this area. Witnesses for the defendant asserted that none of the planks lay in an east/west direction, rather they were laid north/south - perpendicular to the east/west running rafters.
In any event, at one point in the work, the plaintiff went downstairs to retrieve duct tape and nails. He came back up the steps and maneuvered around the staircase opening. As he was crossing the area just west of the opening he stepped on the plank (or planks) which he claimed spanned the 40 1/2 inch area. The plank broke and the plaintiff fell through the plasterboard and drop-tile ceiling to the floor below.
At the time of the incident, Laatz was behind the furnace unit. He did not see the plaintiff fall, although he heard a noise and the plaintiff yell. He called out to the plaintiff who stated that he had fallen and that he needed help. The plaintiff was taken to the hospital and hospitalized for a number of days. He ...