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Wright v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

November 1, 2002

ANITA WRIGHT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 98 L 11894 Honorable Mary Mulhern, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Reid

UNPUBLISHED

Anita Wright sustained personal injuries on September 15, 1998, when she fell while leaving a school under the control of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board). Wright brought an action against the Board to recover damages for her injuries. After ruling adversely on plaintiff's second amended complaint, the trial court granted leave to file a third amended complaint. Thereafter, the Board filed another motion for summary judgment. In granting the Board's motion for summary judgment, the trial court ruled the claim was time-barred by the construction statute of repose, section 13-214(b) of the Code of Civil Procedure. (735 ILCS 5/13-214(b) (West 1998)). This appeal followed.

BACKGROUND

On September 15, 1998, during her first visit, Wright fell upon exiting the main entrance of Carter G. Woodson South Elementary School (the school). She was at the school to register her two children for school. She mistakenly entered the adjacent Woodson North school, then walked through to Woodson South.

The fall occurred as Wright exited the middle door of the main entrance. Wright fell, even though the step immediately outside the doorway was at the same level as the surface inside the doorway. *fn1 The location and size of the step immediately adjacent to the main entrance remained unchanged from its condition on the date the building was opened in 1965. As a result of her fall, Wright sustained a fracture of the ankle requiring surgery. Wright sued the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, the entity that built the school in1965 and continues to maintain it to the present day.

Anthony Castleman was able, from his workstation at a desk just inside the middle door of the main entrance, to see Wright fall. He observed her lead with her left foot across the doorway and fall down. He indicated that she did not come into contact with the step that was adjacent to the doorway at the same level as the floor at the threshold. Castleman also indicated that he has observed many people miss the step when exiting the building. When asked, Castleman further indicated that he saw people having problems exiting the school on a weekly basis.

At the Board's request, Victor Kuchler, a licensed architect, reviewed the original building plans and photographs of the doorway. Suzanne Glowiak, who holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, also reviewed the materials. Both described the step as a slab adjacent to the doorway, akin to a cut limestone sill. They both indicate that a downward step would be required to traverse from the level of the floor in the building to ground. When Wright strode out of the school, she apparently missed the step. Wright indicated that the step was neither broken nor indented. Wright also indicated that there was no liquid, debris or garbage on the step. Wright testified that she fell because she extended her foot away from the building beyond the step. As a result, Wright stepped onto the ground at a lower level than the step's tread.

Wright's original complaint sought to impose liability on the Board for violations of unidentified national codes pertaining to exits because the step landing was not as wide as the exit door and for failure to warn. The first amended complaint asserted liability for violations of section 13-160-300(c) the Chicago Municipal Code. Chicago Municipal Code §13-160-300(c) (1990). In the second amended complaint, Wright claimed the Board violated the Chicago Municipal Code because the step's tread was not 10 inches wide, the placement of the desk by the door interfered with egress, and the step's height of two risers plus the width of the tread exceeded 27 inches. Wright also argued that the Board violated Article XXII of the Cook County building ordinance because the floor level inside the door did not continue outside for the distance of the door's width, the doorway led to a step rather than a door-width landing, the step's tread was not 10 inches wide, the step had no guard or handrails, and the placement of the desk interfered with egress. Cook County Building Ordinance, Article XXII, Sections 22.5-3; 22.6-1(c). Wright further alleged that the Board violated the BOCA National Building Code and failed to warn of the drop-off.

The Board filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the construction statute of repose time-barred the claims in the second amended complaint. 735 ILCS 5/13-214(b) (West 1998). The trial court granted the motion on July 31, 2000. Wright filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied with leave to file a third amended complaint.

The third amended complaint asserted that the Board violated sections of the Chicago Municipal Code which state that existing buildings shall comply with all applicable exit requirements and allegedly impose a duty on the Board to modify the means of egress. The Municipal Code allegedly requires a four-foot platform outside an above-grade door. Wright also alleged violations of the Chicago Municipal Code because the desk was in the way and because the stair's tread was less than 10 inches. Wright also alleged violations of Article XXII of the Cook County building ordinance that requires a landing outside an exit door at least as wide as the door's width. Cook County Building Ordinance, Article XXII, Section 22.5-3. Finally, Wright argued that the Board failed to warn of the drop-off.

The Board filed another motion for summary judgment based on the construction statute of repose. Fully briefed, this motion was denied. Upon the Board's motion to reconsider, the trial court granted the motion and dismissed the third amended complaint.

ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES

Wright argues that the cause of action is not time-barred by the construction statute of repose, a statute implemented to protect engineers, architects and contractors from stale claims regarding the design and construction of buildings. Wright argues that the Board has a duty to maintain its premises pursuant to the Premises Liability Act (740 ILCS 130/2 (West 1998)), as well as the Chicago Municipal Code. Wright argues that the construction statute of repose does not apply to actions against landowners where the action is based upon the defendant's status as a landowner and not on an act or omission in the design, planning, supervision, observation or management of construction. Wright claims that, in the capacity as the entity responsible for maintaining the property in a reasonably safe manner, the Board failed to comply with the exit requirements for existing buildings or warn of the potential danger. Wright also claims that there existed an unreasonably dangerous condition at the location of the school, which was in ...


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