The opinion of the court was delivered by: ALESIA
On February 19, 1996, the court held a bench trial on plaintiff Sandra Torres' personal injury cause of action against defendant United States of America. The case is before the court under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-80.
The court, based upon the credible evidence of record, makes the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52:
Condition of the post office stairs
1. Defendant United States of America ("the government") operates a post office in Streator, Illinois.
2. Post office patrons may enter and exit the post office from either the Hickory Street side or the Monroe Street side.
3. Post office employees routinely maintained and inspected the post office premises, including the stairs on the Monroe Street side.
4. Post office employee John Kovatch ("Kovatch") is responsible for custodial and maintenance work inside and outside of the post office. Kovatch has been in his position since 1981.
5. At certain times of the day each day, Kovatch walks around the building and examines the stairs to see if any debris is on the stairs. He also occasionally is required to fix the stairs.
6. In 1991, Kovatch was instructed by the postmaster to replace signs attached to the front of the top step of the post office stairs.
7. The top step of the Monroe Street stairs once had held another sign, which had been removed sometime before 1991. There were nail holes in the top step as well as some remaining nails that had held the old sign.
8. Kovatch placed the new sign immediately adjacent to where the old sign had been.
9. Kovatch saw the nails and nail holes where the old sign had been fixed to the top step, but he did not bother to remove the nails. He was of the opinion that the nails did not seem to be a problem and that if the nails were removed, the concrete might have to be replaced. Kovatch left the nails from the old sign in place.
10. It is unclear whether the nails that Kovatch left in place were sticking straight out or were bent, and how far they protruded from the step, at the time Kovatch installed the new sign in 1991.
11. According to Kovatch, an inspector conducted yearly safety inspections of the post office, including the outside stairs. To Kovatch's knowledge, the inspector never cited the post office for a safety violation. The government did not call a post office safety inspector to testify at trial.
12. On May 6, 1994, in the late afternoon, plaintiff Sandra Torres ("Torres") visited the Streator post office.
13. At the time Torres went to the post office, the weather was sunny and dry.
14. Torres was wearing low-heeled loafers.
15. Torres entered the post office on the Hickory Street side.
16. Torres exited the post office on the Monroe Street side.
18. When Torres reached the stairs, she descended the south portion of the stairs.
19. Torres began stepping down from the top step of the stairs, which is the step that holds the sign installed by Kovatch in 1991 and which held the old sign that had been removed prior to 1991. The nails that had affixed the old sign to the step still were in the top step.
20. Torres' right heel caught something as she stepped down from the top step.
21. Torres tried to regain her balance by grabbing for the rail, but she was unable to do so and fell down the flight of stairs, landing at the bottom.
22. Pam Neal ("Neal"), an eyewitness to Torres' accident, was walking up the stairs as Torres was beginning to walk down the stairs. Neal was almost even with Torres, but slightly to the right of her.
23. Neal saw Torres' left ankle turn, saw a surprised look on Torres' face, and saw Torres drop her things and try to lunge for the rail to stop her fall, which Torres was unable to do. Neal did not know if Torres' shoe caught on a nail on the stairs, but she saw her as her left foot turned and she started to fall.
24. Neal tried to catch Torres, but could not, and Torres fell down the stairs.
25. Torres landed on her hands and knees, and her mouth hit the railing at the ...