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03/29/96 PRINCELLA HILL v. CHARLIE CLUB

March 29, 1996

PRINCELLA HILL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CHARLIE CLUB, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, AND CHARLES VAVRUS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, AND VAVRUS & ASSOCIATES, DEFENDANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE PHILIP A. FLEISCHMAN, JUDGE PRESIDING.

The Honorable Justice Wolfson delivered the opinion of the court: Campbell, P.j. and Buckley, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson

JUSTICE WOLFSON delivered the opinion of the court:

On October 15, 1987, Princella Hill was sexually assaulted in a conference room at the Charlie Club.

The Charlie Club was a hotel, restaurant, and health club complex located on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Princella Hill (Hill) brought this action against the Charlie Club, Inc. and its owner, Charles Vavrus, for damages alleged to have been caused by the defendants' negligence in failing to protect her from the criminal conduct of a third party.

The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. The jury found plaintiff's total damages to be $350,875 and her contributory negligence to be 15%, resulting in a verdict of $298,243.75. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict. We reverse that judgment because we believe, under the circumstances of this case, the Charlie Club did not owe a legal duty to Princella Hill.

FACTS

We set out those facts that bear on the issue of whether any legal duty was owed to Princella Hill by the defendants.

Thomas Strom (Strom) testified for the plaintiff. In 1987 he was a detective with the Chicago police department. He was working on the hotel detail. Part of his job was to meet with security directors or managers of loop hotels. He met with each hotel every one to one-and-one-half weeks and provided information to the hotels regarding known offenders or suspicious people.

Detective Strom was familiar with the Charlie Club. He was also familiar with Emmitt Perine (Perine), a notorious hotel offender. Perine was constantly sought after by the Chicago police department. Perine would usually pose as a photographer for a magazine or a modeling agency. He would enter a hotel and bring a woman into an empty conference room or meeting room. Perine would then commit a sex offense or a theft. Perine had done this in numerous hotels and had been caught from time to time.

Strom testified that he met with a representative of the Charlie Club, either the comptroller or assistant manager, one to two weeks after it opened in 1986. The director of hotel security was presented with a package of 10 to 12 photos, which included Perine and others who committed crimes on hotel properties. The police discussed Perine's methods, including Perine's use of open meeting rooms. The police requested the security department be given this information. The Charlie Club did not have a security department. Other hotels, like the Blackstone or Continental, did. The police asked that the housekeeping staff, front desk personnel, bellman, and doorman all familiarize themselves with the pictures. The majority of hotels had security offices wherein they hung the mug shots on boards along with their descriptions and modus operandi.

Strom met with the Charlie Club hotel manager every 10 days. He would review security issues. Perine's name would come up from time to time, as well as the names of other offenders. The detective also held monthly meetings to which the hotels were invited. Additional information and photographs were provided at these meetings. In Strom's opinion, Charlie Club did not have adequate security because it had no security. Security would have made sure the meeting room doors were locked and would have served as a deterrent.

On cross-examination, Strom agreed that it is not a standard that hotels have security. He also agreed that all hotels have unlocked meeting rooms from time to time. He was unaware of any prior crimes at the Charlie Club premises other than thefts.

Charles Vavrus (Vavrus) testified as an adverse witness. Heowned 100% of the stock of the Charlie Club. The hotel had 137 rooms, a health club, and a dining room. Advertisements promoted the health club as open 24 hours a day. The dining room was open to the public. Hotel guests were allowed free use of the health club. The Charlie Club sold memberships which entitled members to use the health facilities. The public was encouraged to come to the Charlie Club.

Conference rooms were to be locked when not in use. Members of the public were not invited into closed conference rooms. In order to use a conference room, a guest would have to make arrangements with the hotel and pay a fee. There had been no serious crimes committed at the Charlie Club on Michigan Avenue before this incident. The bars were not open in October 1987. The hotel never sold champagne by ...


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