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Raffen v. International Contractors

June 03, 2004

ROSEMARIE RAFFEN, AS SPECIAL ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF DEAN RAFFEN, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
INTERNATIONAL CONTRACTORS, INC., DEFENDANT AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE (MICHAEL BROPHY, DEFENDANT; MICHAEL SPATAFORA, AS SPECIAL ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF MELLODY SPATAFORA, DECEASED, DEFENDANT; THE CITY OF ELMHURST, DEFENDANT AND THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 02-L-1090. Honorable Kenneth L. Popejoy, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

PUBLISHED

On the afternoon of January 9, 2001, decedent, Dean Raffen, was killed when he was thrown from the car in which he was a passenger. The driver of the car was his sister, Mellody Spatafora. Mellody's car was traveling on a frontage road when it collided with a car driven by defendant Michael Brophy. Brophy was exiting the driveway of defendant International Contractors, Inc. (ICI). Next to the driveway was a snow pile that prevented Brophy and Mellody from seeing each other. Plaintiff, Rosemarie Raffen, decedent's wife and special administrator of his estate, filed a wrongful death negligence suit against Brophy and ICI. ICI moved to dismiss her complaint (see 735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2002)), contending that, as a landowner, it owed no duty to travelers on an adjacent roadway. The trial court granted the motion. Plaintiff moved to reconsider and to file an amended complaint, adding, among other things, additional defendants. The trial court denied the motion to reconsider and the motion to file an amended complaint against ICI. Plaintiff appeals, and we reverse and remand.

I. FACTS

Plaintiff alleged that on January 9, 2001, Mellody's car was traveling north on Frontage Road in Elmhurst and approaching 977 Frontage Road, which is where ICI is located. At that location on Frontage Road, Mellody's and Brophy's cars collided.

In her claim against Brophy (count I), plaintiff alleged that a buildup of snow prevented Brophy and Mellody from seeing each other in enough time to avoid an accident. Plaintiff claimed that Brophy was negligent because he failed to yield to traffic on Frontage Road, to decrease his speed, and to keep a proper and sufficient lookout. Plaintiff alleged that these negligent acts were the direct and proximate cause of decedent's death. In her claim against ICI (count II), plaintiff realleged that the snow pile prevented Brophy and Mellody from seeing each other. She claimed that ICI was negligent because it failed to properly remove snow from its premises, piled snow at the edge of its property that impaired the visibility of people entering and exiting ICI, and provided an unsafe ingress to and egress from its premises. Plaintiff claimed that these negligent acts were the direct and proximate cause of decedent's death.

Around the same time that plaintiff filed her complaint, Mellody filed a negligence suit against Brophy and ICI for injuries she sustained in the same accident. The trial court consolidated the two cases. Mellody subsequently died of cancer, and her claims were being prosecuted by her son, Michael Spatafora, as special administrator of Mellody's estate

ICI filed a third-party complaint for contribution against the City of Elmhurst, which moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2002)). ICI joined in Elmhurst's motion to dismiss, alleging, pursuant to Ziemba v. Mierzwa, 142 Ill. 2d 42 (1991), that it owed no duty to decedent and Mellody. The trial court granted ICI's motion to dismiss, finding that, pursuant to Ziemba, ICI had no duty to ensure against Brophy's negligent acts. Plaintiff and Michael moved to reconsider, and plaintiff sought to file an amended complaint, naming the City of Elmhurst and Michael, as special administrator of Mellody's estate, as additional defendants. In the amended count against ICI, plaintiff alleged that Brophy was cautious when he exited ICI's driveway. She also claimed that ICI violated a local ordinance that prohibited encroachment on or obstruction of a public way.

The trial court denied the motion to reconsider and the motion to file an amended complaint against ICI, but it granted the motion to file an amended complaint against the remaining defendants. On appeal, plaintiff raises two issues. She first claims that ICI's motion to dismiss should have been denied because ICI had a duty to provide a safe means of ingress to and egress from its property. Secondly, she contends that the trial court erred when it denied her motion to file an amended complaint that alleged, in the alternative, that Brophy was cautious and that ICI violated a local ordinance prohibiting the obstruction of public ways.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code should be granted only when the allegations in the complaint, construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, fail to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. Oliveira v. Amoco Oil Co., 201 Ill. 2d 134, 147 (2002). In making this assessment, all well-pleaded facts and inferences drawn from those facts are accepted as true. Oliveira, 201 Ill. 2d at 147. We review de novo a trial court's dismissal pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code. Oliveira, 201 Ill. 2d at 147-48.

A successful negligence claim must establish that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, and the breach proximately caused the injury the plaintiff sustained. Largosa v. Ford Motor Co., 303 Ill. App. 3d 751, 754 (1999). When deciding whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, courts consider (1) the foreseeability of the injury, (2) the likelihood of the injury, (3) the magnitude of the burden in guarding against the injury, and (4) the consequences of placing the burden on the defendant. Ward v. K mart Corp., 136 Ill. 2d 132, 140-41 (1990). Whether a duty exists is a question of law, and the answer hinges on whether the parties stood in such a relationship to each other that the law would impose an obligation on the defendant to act reasonably for the protection of the plaintiff. Ziemba, 142 Ill. 2d at 47.

In cases such as this one, where it is alleged that a landowner owes a duty to travelers on an adjacent roadway, courts first focus on the foreseeability of the injury. Gouge v. Central Illinois Public Service Co., 144 Ill. 2d 535, 544 (1991); Ziemba, 142 Ill. 2d at 49. Thus, we will first consider whether it is reasonably foreseeable that snow at the edge of Frontage Road and next to ICI's driveway would prevent motorists from seeing ...


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