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06/13/97 NANCY ROTZOLL v. OVERHEAD DOOR CORPORATION

June 13, 1997

NANCY ROTZOLL, AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF ELIZABETH BENSON, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
OVERHEAD DOOR CORPORATION, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE, AND OVERHEAD DOOR CORPORATION, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-COUNTERPLAINTIFF, V. PULMOCARE MEDICAL SUPPLY, INC. AND TEE JAY CENTRAL, INC., COUNTERDEFENDANTS.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 95L391. Honorable Thomas J. Difanis, Judge Presiding.

Honorable Rita B. Garman, J., Honorable James A. Knecht, J. - Concur: Honorable Robert W. Cook, J. - Dissent. Justice Garman delivered the opinion of the court. Knecht, J., concurs. Cook, J., dissents.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garman

JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

In March 1995, Elizabeth Benson filed a complaint against defendant Overhead Door Corporation (Overhead Door), alleging strict products liability and negligence. Since the filing of the complaint, Elizabeth has passed away. Nancy Rotzoll, as administrator of Elizabeth's estate, has been substituted as plaintiff. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

Plaintiff alleged that on November 17, 1994, Elizabeth, who was then 88 years of age, was entering Pulmocare Medical Supply's (Pulmocare's) place of business in Champaign with the use of a walker. The automatic sliding glass door opened for Elizabeth, but closed on her as she was continuing through the doorway, knocking her down and injuring her.

The automatic sliding door system consists of several components. Activating devices, such as motion detectors, initiate the opening and closing of the door by sensing movement as someone approaches either side of the door. Without some sort of activation device, the automatic door system would not function at all. Numerous variable settings, such as door closing speed, closing force, and the time delay before closing, are all set by the installer or the operator of the door system. Regardless of how these variables are set, other door components are designed to prevent the doors from closing on an individual who is crossing the threshold of the door. Threshold protection is achieved through the use of transmitters and receivers that, when interrupted by an object breaking the plane of the doorway, prevent the door from shutting.

Defendant sells both complete and incomplete automatic door systems. While defendant does sell door systems complete with activating devices such as motion detectors, the customer may order a system without such devices and purchase the devices from other suppliers. All door systems do, however, come with some sort of threshold protection, and defendant offers its customers two alternative threshold safety devices. The first is a twin "safety-beam" system, which consists of two pairs of transmitters and receivers, one pair installed at a height of 24 inches above ground, the other pair installed 48 inches above ground. Two beams of light are transmitted across the threshold, and the continued interruption of either beam will stop the doors from shutting. The second option is a "threshold sonar scan" system, which utilizes one safety beam as well as a "threshold scan." This threshold scan is positioned 30 inches above ground and appears designed to detect persons or objects within a short distance of the threshold on either side, not just those actually breaking the plane of the doorway. As the zone of detection produced by the threshold scan is broader than the two-beam system, the automatic doors will be prevented from closing in a greater number of situations.

The automatic sliding door system at issue was ordered, installed, and configured by Tee Jay Central, Inc. (TJC), on behalf of its client Pulmocare. TJC ordered a Series 2310, Model C1304 automatic door from defendant in March 1994. The system was ordered without activating devices, as TJC chose to order motion detectors from two other manufacturers not made parties to this action. For threshold protection, TJC chose the twin "safety-beam" system rather than the "threshold sonar scan" system to be utilized at Pulmocare's facility.

In the proceedings below, the essence of plaintiff's allegations was that the twin safety-beam system manufactured by defendant was not designed to detect the presence of a walker crossing the plane of a doorway. Plaintiff claims Elizabeth's walker crossed the threshold of the automatic door at Pulmocare's facility, but the safety beams passed through the walker uninterrupted, thereby failing to prevent the door from closing on her. Plaintiff alleged both strict liability and negligence on defendant's part for the defective design of the door system. The trial court, in an order that does not contain written findings, granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff's motion to vacate the order of summary judgment and to amend her pleadings was denied, and this appeal followed.

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, depositions, and admissions, together with any affidavits, show there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 1994); Champaign National Bank v. Babcock, 273 Ill. App. 3d 292, 299, 652 N.E.2d 848, 853, 210 Ill. Dec. 46 (1995); Malone v. American Cyanamid Co., 271 Ill. App. 3d 843, 845, 649 N.E.2d 493, 495 (1995). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a trial court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Malone, 271 Ill. App. 3d at 845, 649 N.E.2d at 495; Sparacino v. Andover Controls Corp., 227 Ill. App. 3d 980, 984, 592 N.E.2d 431, 434, 169 Ill. Dec. 944 (1992). We review de novo grants of summary judgment. Malone, 271 Ill. App. 3d at 845, 649 N.E.2d at 495; Depre v. Power Climber, Inc., 263 Ill. App. 3d 116, 117, 635 N.E.2d 542, 544, 200 Ill. Dec. 203 (1994).

Plaintiff challenges the trial court's grant of summary judgment on his counts of strict liability and negligence. To recover against a manufacturer under the theory of strict liability, a plaintiff must prove his injury resulted from an unreasonably dangerous condition of the product that existed at the time the product left the manufacturer's control. Depre, 263 Ill. App. 3d at 117-18, 635 N.E.2d at 544; Loos v. American Energy Savers, Inc., 168 Ill. App. 3d 558, 562, 522 N.E.2d 841, 844, 119 Ill. Dec. 179 (1988). A product may be unreasonably dangerous due to a manufacturing defect, a failure to warn, or a defect in design. Lamkin v. Towner, 138 Ill. 2d 510, 528, 563 N.E.2d 449, 457, 150 Ill. Dec. 562 (1990); McColgan v. Environmental Control Systems, Inc., 212 Ill. App. 3d 696, 699, 571 N.E.2d 815, 817, 156 Ill. Dec. 835 (1991); W. Keeton, Prosser & Keeton on Torts ยง 99, at 695 (5th ed. 1984) (hereinafter Keeton).

Plaintiff here alleges strict liability based upon a defect in the design of the components manufactured by defendant and sold to TJC for installation at Pulmocare. Plaintiff does not allege a failure by defendant to warn of a risk or hazard related to the way the components sold to TJC were designed. Nor does plaintiff allege any manufacturing defect, i.e., that the two-beam threshold protection system was not in fact working at the time Elizabeth crossed the threshold with her walker. Rather, the essence of plaintiff's strict liability count is that the two-beam threshold protection system was defectively designed, since it was possible for the two narrow safety beams to pass through gaps in Elizabeth's walker as she began crossing the threshold of the doorway.

The law in Illinois is clear that the obligation that gives rise to a duty to avoid reasonably foreseeable injury to another does not extend to the anticipation of how manufactured components, not themselves inherently dangerous or defective, can become potentially dangerous when integrated into a unit designed, assembled, installed, and sold by another. Sparacino, 227 Ill. App. 3d at 986, 592 N.E.2d at 435; Depre, 263 Ill. App. 3d at 119, 635 N.E.2d at 545. In Sparacino, the defendant, Andover Controls Corporation (Andover), was in the business of manufacturing microprocessing equipment for building automation systems. Andover sold an energy management system (EMS) to codefendant Communication Management Corporation (CMC) for installation at a local high school. Plaintiff Sparacino, a chemistry teacher, arrived early to work one morning to prepare a chemical experiment that would produce chlorine gas. He flipped on an overhead fan to draw out the noxious chlorine gas, but the EMS had been programmed such that the fan would not operate until later in the day. The plaintiff was injured as a result of inhaling chlorine gas. Summary judgment in favor of Andover was granted.

The plaintiff had argued the EMS produced by Andover and sold to CMC was not designed to override the manual switch on the exhaust fan, that an override mechanism may have prevented his injuries, and that Andover had the technology to provide this safety feature and knew the danger involved in its absence. However, the evidence disclosed that the specifications for the product were developed by outside architects, energy consultants, and design engineers. CMC selected the EMS supplied by Andover based upon these specifications. Andover did not design the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system into which the EMS was incorporated. Andover was not given plans and specifications for the project and did not install the EMS in the building. The ...


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