Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County No. 98L25 Honorable Thomas J. Fahey, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Knecht
PRESIDING JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court:
On February 11, 1998, plaintiff, Mildred Wilson (Millie), filed a complaint against defendants, Devonshire Realty of Danville (Devonshire) and Stradeco, Inc. (Stradeco), for injuries sustained from negligent exposure to noxious chemicals at her place of employment. In July 1998, defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff's complaint was time-barred by the two-year statute of limitations period for personal injuries. On August 25, 1998, the trial court granted defendants' motions. Plaintiff appeals, arguing the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because a genuine issue of material fact existed in the record. We disagree and affirm.
The record on appeal reveals the following. Plaintiff was employed by Devonshire as a realtor pursuant to an independent contract agreement. Devonshire provided office facilities for plaintiff, together with supplies and staff to accomplish the purpose of the independent contract agreement. Plaintiff sold real estate property for Devonshire from its facility at 3100 North Vermilion in Danville, Illinois.
On or about September 1, 1994, defendant Devonshire began remodeling its North Vermilion facility. Plaintiff and other staff members continued to conduct business in the building during the renovations. Devonshire hired numerous contractors, including Stradeco, to perform renovations in the building. Stradeco was retained in September 1994 to paint several pieces of office furniture in the facility.
In plaintiff's deposition taken on June 22, 1998, plaintiff testified as follows. She experienced signs of illness as soon as she began working in the building in December 1994 or January 1995. Specifically, she experienced respiratory problems while working in the building. At that same time, she experienced skin irritation, which included itching and burning sensations. Due to the strong, unpleasant odors that were present in the building, she attempted to minimize time spent at the office. In January 1995, she was aware of at least six other staff members who were experiencing problems similar to her own. Among those staff members affected, two people were ordered by their doctors not to enter the building. At an office meeting in January 1995, Discussions occurred as to whether the building was causing illness among staff members. Similarly, staff members frequently speculated among themselves some condition of the building was the cause of the various illnesses suffered by those working in the building.
At the request of Devonshire, Reed Environmental (Reed) performed indoor air quality tests at the facility in January 1995. In her deposition, plaintiff claimed she was repeatedly told by Devonshire the environmental tests showed no problem existed within the building. Likewise, in an affidavit, plaintiff stated Devonshire repeatedly assured her throughout 1995 and 1996 the building was not the cause of her health problems.
Plaintiff's health problems persisted throughout 1995. As a result, she met with the managing broker of Devonshire on August 22, 1995, specifically to discuss whether the building renovations were the cause of her health problems. Immediately thereafter, on August 23, 1995, plaintiff consulted Dr. Philbert Chen, an occupational physician, about a possible connection between her symptoms and the building renovations. According to Dr. Chen's records, plaintiff informed him when she first entered her office building she noticed a strong odor, which caused temporary respiratory distress and an itching sensation over her skin. Plaintiff discussed at length with Dr. Chen whether the building was the source of her medical problems. Specifically, Dr. Chen's records indicate he informed plaintiff he was "unsure of any connection with her work exposure to her current symptomatology."
Plaintiff continued to work in the facility throughout 1995 and 1996. On April 20, 1997, plaintiff experienced a loss of consciousness that caused her to seek medical treatment. On April 27, 1997, Dr. David Purcells, a pulmonary specialist, diagnosed plaintiff with a pulmonary illness and suggested to plaintiff the illness could have been caused by irritants in the workplace. Thereafter, plaintiff met with an employee of Reed to obtain information regarding the results of the air quality tests performed at the building. Plaintiff thereafter ceased acting as an independent contractor for Devonshire.
On February 11, 1998, plaintiff filed her complaint against defendants, alleging she developed symptoms of occupational asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity after January 1, 1995, as a result of negligent exposure to noxious chemicals. The trial court granted defendants' motions for summary judgment, finding plaintiff's complaint was untimely under the applicable two-year statute of limitations. This appeal followed.
On appeal, plaintiff argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants based on the expiration of the statute of limitations. Specifically, plaintiff argues (1) a genuine issue of material fact existed as to the date upon which the plaintiff knew or should have known a cause of action existed against defendants; (2) defendants fraudulently concealed the wrongful cause of plaintiff's injury; and (3) plaintiff was unable to conduct sufficient discovery. In response, defendants argue the trial court properly granted summary judgment as the only Conclusion to be drawn from the undisputed facts was plaintiff failed to file her complaint within the two-year limitations period.
Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, depositions and affidavits, construed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, present no issue of material fact and show judgment should be granted as a matter of law. The purpose of summary judgment is not to try a question of fact, but rather to determine whether one exists. Golla v. General Motors Corp., 167 Ill. 2d 353, 358, 657 N.E.2d 894, 897 (1995). The timeliness of a complaint is a question of law for the trial court when only one Conclusion can be drawn from the undisputed facts. Nolan v. Johns-Manville Asbestos, 85 Ill. 2d 161, 171, 421 N.E.2d 864, 868-69 (1981). In cases involving ...