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Spencer v. KFC Corp.

February 3, 2009

KEVIN SPENCER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KFC CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blanche M. Manning United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Colonel Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952 based on a secret blend of eleven herbs and spices that he formulated in 1940. Landmark dates for KFC include 1952, when Colonel Sanders awarded the first KFC franchise via a handshake agreement that required the franchisee to pay a nickel for each chicken sold, and 1957, when Kentucky Fried Chicken was first sold in buckets. Today, perhaps due to health concerns arising from the word "fried," Kentucky Fried Chicken is known as KFC. See http://www.kfc.com/about/history.asp (last visited January 28, 2009).

Every day, KFC restaurants serve nearly eight million customers around the world. See http://www.kfc.com/about/ (last visited January 28, 2009). On July 13, 2004, plaintiff Kevin Spencer and his wife were among these millions of diners, as they chose to visit the the KFC restaurant in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. In this diversity case, Spencer contends that he severely injured his knee after slipping and falling at the Rolling Meadows KFC restaurant. KFC, on the other hand, asserts that Spencer's knee problems are the result of a pre-existing softball injury.

The court conducted a two-day bench trial, and the parties subsequently submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, the court hereby enters the following written findings of fact and conclusions of law , which are based upon consideration of all the admissible evidence as well as this court's own assessment of the credibility of trial witnesses. To the extent that any findings of fact may be considered conclusions of law, they shall be deemed conclusions of law, and vice versa.

I. Findings of Fact

Background

1. At the time this lawsuit was filed, KFC was a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Louisville, Kentucky. On July 13, 2004, KFC owned, operated, managed, maintained and controlled the KFC restaurant located at 5540 S. New Wilke Road, Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

2. Kevin Spencer resides in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and is an Illinois citizen. At the time of the alleged incident at KFC, he worked as a self-employed carpenter and painter. When employed, he earned an average of $100.00 per day.

3. Spencer was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter's disease in his childhood. Osgood-Schlatter's disease affects the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap (the patella) to the shin bone. See http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/827380-overview (last visited on Jan. 28, 2009). Spencer testified that this condition caused him to have a calcium bump under his knee on the shin area, but otherwise did not cause pain or restrict his activities in any way.

4. Spencer contends that in June of 2004, he injured his right knee in two separate incidents. The first occurred while Spencer participated in a softball game on June 14, 2004, and the second occurred on July 13, 2004, while Spencer was dining at the Rolling Meadows KFC. Spencer seeks over $1,300,000 in damages from KFC.

5. Spencer was subsequently involved in another slip-and-fall incident at a Menard's store in August of 2007. Spencer testified that he slipped and fell while attempting to pick up a piece of wood from a bin at Menard's. He bumped his head and injured his back, and received treatment at Castle Chiropractic.

June 14, 2004 Incident (Softball Injury)

6. On June 14, 2004, Spencer injured his right knee playing softball. According to Spencer, he hit the ball, ran the bases and in the process "slid in the sand, twisted and fell down." Spencer Transcript at 16.

7. Two days later, on June 16, 2004, Spencer sought medical attention for this injury at the Northwest Community Hospital emergency room. Although Spencer had his own car, his neighbor drove him to the emergency room. Spencer testified that "there was no reason" why his neighbor drove him to the emergency room. Id. at 43.

8. At the emergency room on June 16, 2004, Spencer informed the treating physician that during the softball incident, his knee twisted and "dislocated," and that he felt it pop. Id. at 17]. Spencer also told hospital staff that his right knee was swelling and causing him pain, and that on a scale of 10, the pain level was 4 or worse.

9. These statements are consistent with emergency room records from June 16, 2004, that quote Spencer as stating that his "knee dislocated but popped back in." Plaintiff's Exhibit 12 (Northwest Community Hospital Emergency Room Records from June 16, 2004) at 2. The emergency room records also state that Spencer had a large effusion in his right knee. Effusion is fluid in the joint that is indicative of inflammation or bleeding in the joint, or both.

10. Emergency room staff told Spencer to wear a knee immobilizer, use crutches, and elevate and ice his knee as necessary. The treating physician also prescribed fifteen Vicodin tablets to treat pain related to the softball injury, and told Spencer to make an appointment with an orthopedic doctor if he continued to have problems with his knee.

11. Spencer testified that he did not seek any further treatment for the softball injury because his knee "started to get better." He further testified that within two weeks of the incident, he was no longer experiencing pain or discomfort in his knee and was back to his regular work routine. Spencer Transcript at 19.

12. Spencer did not point to any evidence indicating that he returned to work during the period of time between the softball incident on June 14, 2004, and the KFC incident on July 13, 2004.

July 13, 2004 Incident (Slip and Fall at KFC Restaurant)

13. On July 13, 2004, Spencer and his wife dined at the KFC in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. At that location, the men's restroom is located off a hallway that is accessed via a solid wood door that opens inward to the right.

14. According to Spencer, he slipped and fell in the hallway leading to the restrooms. Specifically, he testified that: I was going to use the bathroom, and there's a door that opens up to a hall where the bathrooms are. I used my right hand to open the door. I took one step into the hall, and my foot had slid out right underneath me. At this point, I grabbed the handle as hard as I could to prevent falling. My leg had slid forward, somewhat jackknifed back, and then at that point my body contortioned [sic] and twisted. My left arm swung up and hit the door frame of the door opening, and then at that point I pulled the door, hit my knee and then twisted my body and fell backwards.

Spencer Transcript at 19-20.

15. Spencer testified that a third party sitting nearby saw him fall, and that his attorney had this person's contact information. This witness did not testify at trial. He then stated that because he could not walk, he crawled back to his seat. Spencer's wife was dining with him, and according to Spencer, saw him crawl back to the table where they were eating. Spencer's wife did not testify at trial.

16. Annette Kelley and Dominga Serrano, who were employed by KFC and were working at the Rolling Meadows KFC on the date of the incident, testified via deposition. They stated that on the day of Spencer's alleged fall, condensation was forming on the floors at various intervals of time as a result of a broken air conditioning unit.

17. The Rolling Meadows KFC learned about the problem with the air conditioning unit approximately one week prior to the July 13, 2004, incident involving Spencer. At that time, the KFC employees called the air conditioning repair company, which attempted to repair the air conditioning unit.

18. According to Kelley, before the air conditioner was repaired, the floor was damp, as opposed to wet, and the moisture was visible to the naked eye. Because KFC employees were aware of the condensation, they regularly mopped the area. Additionally, they placed several yellow warning signs inside the restroom vestibule and outside the solid wooden door to warn customers about the wet floor.

19. On July 14, 2004, the day after Spencer's alleged fall, a technician examined the air conditioning unit and ordered a part, and KFC ...


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