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Grewe v. West Washington County Unit District 10

February 24, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Washington County. No. 96-L-8 Honorable Lloyd A. Karmeier, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Maag


Plaintiff, Florence Grewe, filed an action against defendant, West Washington County Unit District #10, seeking compensation for injuries she sustained as a result of a fall on defendant's premises on May 22, 1995. The case was tried before a jury on October 30, 1997. At the close of all the evidence, the trial court granted defendant's motion for a directed verdict. Plaintiff appeals from this judgment and certain evidentiary rulings of the trial court.

The pertinent facts are as follows: On May 22, 1995, plaintiff Florence Grewe and her husband, Edward Grewe, went to Okawville High School to attend a spring concert put on by the junior and senior high school students. Defendant, West Washington County Unit District #10, owns and operates Okawville High School. The concert was open to the public, but there was an admission charge. The concert was held inside the gym. There is a lobby area outside the gym. The lobby is a rectangular shape and covers an area about 15 feet by 30 feet. Tickets were being sold at a table near the lobby entrance. Across from the table were two entrances to the gym. One entrance was on the north end of the lobby. The other was on the south end of the lobby. Along the wall between the entrances to the gym, there was a trophy case. There were Pepsi machines along the gym wall on each side of the trophy case.

After plaintiff and her husband bought tickets, they headed toward the north gym door. Plaintiff stated that she noticed that the north side was full and that she turned toward the south entrance. She walked across the lobby past the trophy case. She was walking parallel with and a few feet from the trophy case wall. As she passed the middle of the trophy case, her feet slipped out from under her. She fell to the floor, landing on her side and bottom. She did not look to see whether she slipped on anything because she could not move. She had no idea what caused her feet to slip.

Edward Grewe testified that he was walking directly behind his wife. He tripped over her and landed on his hands and knees very close to where his wife was laying. Mr. Grewe noted that he had a small round spot on the knee of his right pant leg that was gray in color. He said that it was not sticky. It was "more like slick", but not wet. He did not tell the superintendent about finding this spot. Mr. Grewe stated that he did not notice any water or debris on the floor in the immediate vicinity.

Plaintiff was transported by ambulance to the hospital. She sustained a fracture to her right hip, which required a surgical hip replacement. She also sustained a fracture dislocation to her wrist, which required alignment by traction, manipulation, and a long arm cast.

Debra Lynn Barkau testified that she and her family attended the concert. They arrived some 20 to 30 minutes early because she wanted to get specific seating so that she could videotape her daughter's performance. After entering the lobby, she and her five-year-old son walked toward the south entrance to the gym. She stated that she slipped in the lobby. She was near the middle of the trophy case. She estimated that she was 8 or 10 feet out from the trophy case wall when she slipped.

Ms. Barkau testified that after she slipped, she was approached by one of the school district employees who had been handing out programs. Ms. Barkau stated, "[The employee indicated that] I should be careful, or leery, because the floor was slick, and there had been another person slip before me." This incident occurred before plaintiff fell. Ms. Barkau testified that she looked but did not see anything on the floor or on her shoe. Dennis Fancher, the superintendent of schools for the West Washington County Unit District 10, also attended this concert. He arrived before plaintiff slipped and fell. When Mr. Fancher arrived at the concert, he was advised that at least one person had slipped in the lobby area. Mr. Fancher testified that he did not ask anyone to show him the specific part of the lobby where the patron had slipped. He got down on one knee and surveyed the floor in the lobby but saw nothing on the floor. He also slid his feet back and forth across the floor by the trophy cases to see if he could detect anything not readily visible to the eye. He felt nothing out of the ordinary.

Mr. Fancher testified that he took no action because he did not find anything. He stated that if he had found something, he could have placed warning cones to block off the area or required a worker to stand there until the area was cleaned. Mr. Fancher described the shoes he was wearing that evening. The shoes had leather soles with a rubber insert in the middle. He admitted that these were not the best shoes to use to determine if there was something on the floor, because of the rubber insert. He also admitted that he could have missed something on the floor. After plaintiff's fall, Mr. Fancher inspected the area in the same manner. He said that he found nothing on the floor.

Lawrence Lange and Maxine Stine were school custodians. They worked at Okawville's gym that day. The custodians testified that the lobby floor had not been waxed since last summer. Both custodians testified the same dust mop is used to clean the gym floor and the lobby floor. Mr. Lange stated that he did not mop the gym floor because it had been done the night before. He dry-mopped the lobby with a dust mop. Mr. Lange stated that he sometimes uses an "Endust" type of product to dry-mop the gym floor. He does not use it every day. He does not use this product on the lobby floor.

At the close of all of the evidence, defendant renewed its motion for a directed verdict. After considering the arguments of counsel, the court entered an order granting the motion for a directed verdict. In its written order, the court stated in part as follows: "Although plaintiff argues that the earlier `slips' accompanied by the evidence of a spot on Mr. Grewe's pants is sufficient circumstantial evidence to establish [that] a foreign substance must have been on the floor, the court cannot make this leap in view of all of the direct testimony and evidence from everyone, including plaintiff and her husband, that they saw no foreign substance on the floor, even though defendant's agent closely and adequately inspected the premises for such foreign substances before and after the fall. While defendant had notice of the prior slip, it had no notice of any dangerous condition or foreign substance on the floor." "In summary, the evidence wholly fails to support plaintiff[']s claims and her burden of proof on the issues raised by her that defendant failed to adequately inspect the floor after being advised of the earlier slip or that defendant failed to remove any foreign substance from the floor. Without proof that a foreign substance was a proximate cause of her fall, plaintiff has failed to establish a necessary element of her case."

The first issue in this case presents a question as to the circumstances under which the trial court may determine that the proof presents no factual questions for the jury's determination and that a verdict should be directed for the defendant. The propriety of a directed verdict must be Judged according to the standard set forth in Pedrick v. Peoria & Eastern R.R. Co., 37 Ill. 2d 494, 229 N.E.2d 504 (1967), and reaffirmed in Maple v. Gustafson, 151 Ill. 2d 445, 603 N.E.2d 508 (1992).

A directed verdict is properly entered in those limited cases where "all of the evidence, when viewed in its aspects most favorable to the opponent, so overwhelmingly favors movant that no contrary verdict based on that evidence could ever stand". Pedrick, 37 Ill. 2d at 510, 229 N.E.2d 504. In ruling on a motion for a directed verdict, a court does not weigh the evidence, nor is it concerned with the credibility of the witnesses; rather, it may only consider the evidence, and any inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to the party resisting the motion. The court has no right to enter a directed verdict if there is any evidence, together with reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, demonstrating a substantial factual ...

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