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Bielaga v. Mozdzeniak

March 01, 2002

DARLENE BIELAGA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, EDWARD MOZDZENIAK, CHEERS INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 97 L 5216 Honorable James S. Quinlan, Jr., Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Reid

Released for publication March 12, 2002.

DARLENE BIELAGA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, EDWARD MOZDZENIAK, CHEERS INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 97 L 5216 Honorable James S. Quinlan, Jr., Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Reid

PUBLISHED

 Following a jury trial, the defendants, Edward Mozdzeniak and Cheers, Inc. (Cheers), were found to be not liable for the injuries sustained by the plaintiff, Darlene Bielaga. On appeal, Bielaga contends the trial court erred when it: (1) allowed evidence of her drinking, and (2) found that the jury's verdict was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand this case for a new trial.

OVERVIEW

While in a bar, the defendant, Mozdzeniak, who was on duty as a bartender for Cheers, physically lifted up the plaintiff off of her seat. While holding the plaintiff, Mozdzeniak lost his balance, and he and the plaintiff fell to the floor. The plaintiff alleges that she was injured as a result of the fall.

THE FACTS

At trial, Mozdzeniak, testified that on November 8, 1987, he was working as a bartender at Cheers. Cheers is a bar and grill that is owned and operated as an Illinois business corporation that, in turn, is owned and controlled by Leo Galligani.

During his testimony, Mozdzeniak was asked if he remembered lifting Bielaga on the night in question. Mozdzeniak testified that he could not remember the specific date, but remembered an incident at Cheers, where he "picked her up, maybe, in a friendly gesture like a bear hug or something and slipping."

When asked if he remembered Bielaga being hurt that night, Mozdzeniak replied, "I remember something to that nature." When asked where she was hurt, he replied, "Actually, I couldn't give you a specific part of the body * * * I want to say maybe her foot, knee." Mozdzeniak did not remember Bielaga leaving Cheers.

Mozdzeniak notified Galligani after the incident that there had been an accident. Mozdzeniak said that he was not reprimanded, but Galligani "made it very clear to me he was unhappy with the event."

Mozdzeniak saw Bielaga's husband after the incident. Mr. Bielaga informed Mozdzeniak that Mrs. Bielaga was hurt as a result of the accident at Cheers. Mozdzeniak apologized to Mr. Bielaga during the conversation. Mozdzeniak said that he did not mean to drop Mrs. Bielaga.

Mozdzeniak testified that there was no written policy prohibiting him from drinking while he was bartending at Cheers. Mozdzeniak said that Galligani "made it known that he didn't want anybody drunk behind the bar." Galligani was not present at Cheers on the day of the accident.

Mozdzeniak was asked if he had been drinking on the night of the incident. Mozdzeniak replied, "I might have had a few."

Mozdzeniak testified that his duties as a bartender entailed, taking money from patrons, serving drinks and food, cleaning tables, and occasionally closing the bar. Mozdzeniak was asked if Galligani allowed him to pick up female customers, and he replied "to my knowledge, I shouldn't have picked up anybody." Mozdzeniak could not remember if he was responsible for closing Cheers on the night of the accident.

Jeanette Wilson Vieyra, a friend of Bielaga's, testified that on November 8, 1987, she arrived at Cheers in the late evening. When she arrived, Bielaga and ...


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