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December 14, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 90-L-2102. Honorable Edward R. Duncan, Jr., Judge, Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Bowman delivered the opinion of the court: Doyle and Colwell, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bowman

JUSTICE BOWMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Elena Castaneda, appeals from an order granting summary judgment to defendants, Community Unit School District No. 200, Wheaton Central High School, and Virginia Parrish, on plaintiff's personal injury claim arising out of a bicycling accident. We affirm.

This case was earlier on appeal from a trial court ruling dismissing a count of the complaint alleging negligence against defendants Community School District No. 200 and Wheaton Central High School. (See Castaneda v. Community School District No. 200 (1992), 226 Ill. App. 3d 514, 168 Ill. Dec. 638, 589 N.E.2d 1038.) The earlier appeal has no direct relationship to the issues now before us.

The following summary of the facts is taken from the record on appeal. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against defendants for damages resulting from a collision between her bicycle and that of defendant Virginia Parrish (age 16), who was one of approximately 30 Wheaton Central High School students participating in a class outing. The outing consisted of a 30-minute round trip bicycle ride along the Illinois Prairie Path in Wheaton, Illinois. The outing was supervised by Michael Cowen, a physical education instructor employed by Wheaton Central High School, a component of Community Unit School District 200. Plaintiff's complaint alleged that Cowen's supervision of the class amounted to willful and wanton conduct which proximately caused her injuries.

Plaintiff's injury occurred on the Illinois Prairie Path, a publicly owned recreational nature trail accessible to the general public for biking, running, and walking. According to Cowen's deposition testimony, prior to plaintiff's accident, the students had bicycled on the path approximately 10 times. Additionally, prior to the accident, Cowen spent a class period instructing the students on bicycle safety based on his practical experience and education. When shown a copy of a bicycle rules pamphlet published by the State of Illinois, Cowen admitted he did not use any books or manuals to instruct the students, but stated that he taught all of the material in the booklet to the students, as well as giving them additional instruction. He directed the students to ride single file on the prairie path because he knew that at various points the path was wide enough to accommodate only two bicycles passing in opposite directions. He told the students that it was necessary for them to ride single file to allow riders from the opposite direction to pass.

Upon completion of the instruction period, Cowen took the students on an initial bicycle tour to familiarize them with the prairie path. After that, he allowed the students to bicycle at their own pace.

Immediately prior to the accident, the students were riding 10- and 12-speed bicycles which could travel at speeds of between 10 and 25 miles per hour. The bicycles were strung out at varying intervals for some distance. According to Cowen, the contour of the prairie path is generally straight and level. To keep count of the number of students on the outward part of the trip, Cowen rode at the head of the group and was aware the students were not riding as a single cohesive group. He rode at the rear of the group on the homeward journey.

In her deposition, plaintiff testified that the path was straight and level with no curves where the accident occurred. Plaintiff first noticed Virginia Parrish approximately one minute before the collision occurred. She continued to observe Virginia as they moved closer together and saw Virginia's bike moving closer towards plaintiff's side of the path. At one point she saw Virginia look at her. However, from that point until the collision occurred, Virginia never moved her bike back into the single lane of traffic. Rather, she remained abreast of the student next to her. Plaintiff observed Virginia continuing to talk to the student next to her. During this period, plaintiff did not yell or say anything to Virginia, nor did she drive off of the bicycle path itself. Instead, she waited until the last minute and then moved her bicycle to the right edge of the path but not off the path. Despite this action, a collision occurred between Virginia and plaintiff, causing injuries to plaintiff.

Following the collision, one or two students rode ahead and informed Cowen of the accident. Cowen was riding at the head of the group, a distance of approximately one-half to three-quarters of a mile from the site of the accident. Upon reaching the scene, Cowen heard Virginia state that she knew she should not have been riding abreast of the other student.

After hearing argument on defendants' summary judgment motion, the trial court found that as a matter of law the teacher's supervision did not constitute willful and wanton conduct and that there were no genuine issues of material fact. Accordingly, the court granted summary judgment to defendants. On appeal, plaintiff contends the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment was erroneous because there is a material issue of fact as to whether Cowen's conduct was willful and wanton under the definition of that term used by Illinois courts. In response, defendant argues that although reasonable minds could differ as to whether the evidence is sufficient to show negligence by Cowen, there is nothing in the record to indicate his actions were willful and wanton.

Summary judgment is a drastic means of disposing of litigation and accordingly should be utilized only when the moving party's right to it is clear and free from doubt. ( Purtill v. Hess (1986), 111 Ill. 2d 229, 240, 95 Ill. Dec. 305, 489 N.E.2d 867.) However, summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and admissions on file show there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (c) (West 1992); Crum & Forster Corp. v. Resolution Trust Corp. (1993), 156 Ill. 2d 384, 390-91, 189 Ill. Dec. 756, 620 N.E.2d 1073.) Where reasonable persons may fairly draw different inferences from those facts which are not in dispute, the motion must be denied. ( Kirksey v. Trefzger (1988), 175 Ill. App. 3d 891, 897, 125 Ill. Dec. 401, 530 N.E.2d 559.) The appellate court must conduct a de novo review of a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Crum, 156 Ill. 2d at 390.

Plaintiff requests that, in reviewing the evidence, we utilize the definition of willful and wanton conduct set forth in Landers v. School District No. 203 (1978), 66 Ill. App. 3d 78, 22 Ill. Dec. 837, 383 N.E.2d 645. Landers states that willful ...

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