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Rexroad v. City of Springfield

June 17, 2002

MATTHEW REXROAD AND HAROLD REXROAD, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; CITY WATER, LIGHT AND POWER OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS; AND THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF SPRINGFIELD SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 186 OF SANGAMON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 98L122 Honorable Patrick W. Kelley, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Turner

Released for publication.

MATTHEW REXROAD AND HAROLD REXROAD, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; CITY WATER, LIGHT AND POWER OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS; AND THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF SPRINGFIELD SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 186 OF SANGAMON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 98L122 Honorable Patrick W. Kelley, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Turner

In August 1995, plaintiff, Matthew Rexroad, suffered injuries when he fell in an excavation area in the Lanphier High School (High School) parking lot. Matthew and his father, Harold Rexroad, brought a negligence action against defendants, the City of Springfield (City); City Water, Light, and Power (CWLP); and the Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186 (Board), to recover damages for Matthew's injuries. The trial court struck CWLP from the complaint. The City and the Board sought summary judgment, asserting they were not liable for Matthew's injuries because (1) the parking lot was recreational property under section 3-106 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Act) (745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1994)) and (2) the excavation area was open and obvious. The trial court granted defendants' summary judgment motion.

Plaintiffs appeal, contending (1) the excavated area in the High School parking lot was not recreational property and (2) the hole was not open and obvious. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 15, 1995, Matthew broke his left ankle when he was walking across an excavation area with a sand-filled hole in the High School parking lot and fell. During his deposition, Matthew drew a map of the High School complex that indicated where the hole was in relationship to the football field and the school building. See appendix. During football practices, the gate labeled "b" on the map was locked. A fence surrounded the practice field, and the hole was outside of that fence.

The hole in question was created by CWLP's removal of a fire hydrant. A CWLP employee testified in a deposition that barricades and an orange ribbon were placed around the hole following the excavation of the fire hydrant. The barricades were to remain in place until another City department filled in the hole and paved the area up to the level of the parking lot. Before the hydrant's removal, students had damaged the hydrant with their vehicles.

At the time of Matthew's fall, he was working as a helper for the High School's football team during its preseason summer practice sessions. In his deposition, Matthew stated a coach had told him to go to the locker room to get a football helmet for a player. The locker room was in the gymnasium by the football field, and after retrieving the helmet, Matthew exited the doors by the gymnasium. He then headed back to the practice field and was focusing his attention on the player on the field who needed the helmet when he stepped into the hole and fell. Matthew did not remember any details of his fall but speculated he might have slipped on some residual sand on the pavement surrounding the hole. Matthew described the hole as being eight feet by eight feet and filled with sand with a four-inch gap between the sand and the surrounding blacktop. After his fall and while lying in the sand, Matthew noticed barricades lined up against a fence behind the hole.

Shirley Laurik testified in her deposition that she attended all of the High School football practices when her son, Russell Laurik, was a manager for the team. Matthew testified Shirley always watched the team practice. When Matthew fell, Shirley was sitting in a chair near the hole but did not see him fall. In his deposition, Russell testified he did not have to be on the practice field during football practices and was relaxing on the parking lot when he saw Matthew fall. He further testified he walked through the hole with no difficulties and so had the football players.

In March 1998, Matthew and his father filed a complaint sounding in negligence. The complaint alleged the City had excavated the parking lot. The complaint also named the Board as a defendant and alleged the Board had knowledge of the excavation. The complaint alleged both defendants left the area in a dangerous condition and failed to barricade or cordon off the unrepaired excavation. The complaint listed CWLP as a defendant. However, in September 2000, the trial court granted CWLP's motion to strike it from the complaint because CWLP was an agency of the City that could not be sued in its own name.

The remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the school parking lot should be considered recreational property under section 3-106 of the Act (745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 1994)), thereby immunizing them from ordinary negligence and barring plaintiffs' claim. The motion further alleged the excavation area was open and obvious; thus, defendants owed no duty to plaintiff.- 1 - The trial court granted defendants' motion, finding the parking lot was recreational property ...


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