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01/16/98 SAMMIE STRAWDER v. CITY CHICAGO

January 16, 1998

SAMMIE STRAWDER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Walter Kowalski, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Quinn delivered the opinion of the court. Theis, J., and Zwick, J. concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Quinn

The Honorable Justice QUINN delivered the opinion of the court:

On September 29, 1990, plaintiff, Sammy Strawder (Strawder) slipped, fell, and broke his arm while walking onto a parkway adjacent to a street in the City of Chicago (City). Strawder subsequently filed a complaint alleging negligence on behalf of the City. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Strawder. The City filed a timely notice of appeal and raises the following issues: (1) whether the trial court erred in denying the City's request to strike a juror; (2) whether the trial court erred in denying a proposed jury instruction; and (3) whether the height variation between the street and the gravel path where Strawder fell is de minimis. Jurisdiction is vested in this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 301 (155 Ill. 2d R. 301).

For the following reasons, we reverse.

The relevant facts are as follows. During the evening hours of September 29, 1990, Strawder was walking northbound on a sidewalk which runs parallel to Paxton Avenue in the City. The night was dark and rainy. Strawder eventually reached the intersection of 94th Street and Paxton Avenue where he crossed the street. The sidewalk on Paxton Avenue north of 94th Street did not reach all the way to the street. The 10 foot distance between the street and the sidewalk consisted of gravel and dirt. The gravel had been put there during the 1930's when the sidewalks were installed. Upon reaching the other side of 94th Street, it was necessary for Strawder to cross this gravel parkway in order to reach the continuing sidewalk on Paxton. As Strawder stepped into the parkway, he had to step down which caused him to lose his balance and fall. Testimony at trial established that the height variation between 94th Street and the parkway was approximately 2 and 1/2 to 2 and 3/4 inches. Further testimony established that the parkway became filled with water when it rained. As a result of the fall, Strawder broke his left arm.

On July 24, 1991, Strawder filed his first complaint which alleged negligence on behalf of the City in its maintenance of the parkway. On May 11, 1995, Strawder filed an amended complaint, and on May 12, 1995, jury selection commenced. On May 17, 1995, the jury was given the case. Following deliberations on the 17th, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Strawder.

The City maintains that the trial court erred when it refused to allow the City to strike a juror during voir dire. We agree.

During voir dire, the trial court allowed the trial attorneys to conduct the voir dire, with the City going first. During voir dire conducted by the City, venireperson Sandra Ford testified that her niece had been struck by a car, and that a subsequent lawsuit had been settled. The City's attorney then asked the following questions and Ford provided the following answers:

COUNSEL: Were there any other incidents in your family that you can recall?

FORD: No.

COUNSEL: Do you recall any member of your family or yourself having any other lawsuits other than that one?

FORD: No.

The City then accepted Ford. Counsel for plaintiff then questioned Ford, and she ...


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