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Claimsone, Individually and As Subrogee v. Professional Property Management

September 12, 2011

CLAIMSONE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SUBROGEE
OPPORTUNITIES AND LYNN BROME,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PROFESSIONAL PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, LLC, UNKNOWN OWNERS OF BLACKHAWK APARTMENTS, AND JANIS PUMFREY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Tri-County of Ogle County. No. 07-L-54 HonorableMichael T. Mallon,Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Jorgensen

PRESIDING JUSTICE JORGENSEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hudson and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiff, Claimsone, provided workers' compensation coverage to Tri-County Opportunities and its employee, Lynn Brome. After Brome slipped and fell on a rear apartment staircase that was covered with snow and ice, plaintiff, as subrogee, sued defendants, Professional Property Management, LLC (an apartment management company), Blackhawk Apartments, and Janis Pumfrey (the apartment resident who had hired Brome), alleging that they breached their duty of reasonable care in maintaining the subject property and, as a result, directly and proximately caused Brome's injuries. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that they had no duty to remove natural accumulations of snow and ice from the premises. The trial court granted defendants' motion. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On December 15, 2005, Lynn Brome, who worked for Tri-County Opportunities, was performing general housekeeping and cooking duties for Janice Pumfrey, who resided at Blackhawk Apartments. Brome slipped and fell while descending a rear staircase that was covered with snow and ice. Brome subsequently filed a workers' compensation claim and received benefits.

¶ 4 On December 14, 2007, plaintiff filed a subrogation complaint against defendants (820 ILCS 305/5 (West 2006)), alleging that it provided workers' compensation coverage to Tri-County Opportunities and Brome (Tri-County's employee) and had the right to bring a cause of action against the defendants, who had legal liability for damages to Brome, because Brome failed to institute her own cause of action. Plaintiff further alleged that defendants were negligent in failing to remove snow and ice from the premises and that, as a direct and proximate result, Brome was injured.*fn1

¶ 5 On August 5, 2010, defendants jointly moved for summary judgment, arguing that they had no duty to remove snow and ice that had naturally accumulated on the subject property's rear staircase. On September 20, 2010, plaintiff filed a response, arguing that defendants had a duty to remove the snow and ice because: (1) defendants voluntarily assumed a duty to maintain the premises free of snow and ice (in recognition that it was not the tenants' responsibility to clear their own staircases); or (2) a maintenance/caretaker agreement between Professional Property Management and Michael Gilroy, the caretaker/site manager, provided for removal.

¶ 6 The pertinent facts in the parties' filings specifically provide as follows. Pumfrey was a resident at Blackhawk Apartments in Oregon. Each unit had two floors, and Pumfrey's unit, No. 3, had a wooden porch off of the building's second-floor rear entrance that was shared by the residents. An uncovered wooden staircase, which, as depicted in a photograph contained in the record, consisted of 13 steps, led from the porch to the ground level of the complex. Pumfrey was unable to shovel or salt her unit's back staircase because she had difficulty walking.

¶ 7 On December 15, 2002, Brome, who had been employed by Tri-County for about one year, was performing household duties for Pumfrey. Brome had worked at Pumfrey's residence for four or five months, visiting once per week; she generally worked from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Brome arrived at Pumfrey's apartment at 8 a.m. and accessed the unit via the rear staircase(Pumfrey had left the rear door open). According to Brome, during the previous night a "big blizzard" had occurred, which was the season's first snowfall. When Brome arrived, none of the complex's walkways or stairs had been cleared of snow, but the parking lot had been plowed. After performing her work duties for two hours, Brome exited the apartment from the rear exit, intending to take out the garbage. Typically, when Brome did the laundry or took out the garbage, she would walk out of the unit's rear door and use the rear staircase to reach ground level. She noticed that snow remained on the stairs and she threw the garbage over the landing so that she could use her hand to grasp the handrail; she was afraid of falling. As Brome descended the first or second step, she slipped on the snow. Her right leg came out in front of her and her body buckled and crashed into the railing spindles. Brome landed on her buttocks and wrenched her right arm from holding onto the railing.

She got up and went down the stairs. After she threw out the garbage, she went home. Brome subsequently reported her injuries to Tri-County. She underwent medical treatment for her injuries and filed a workers' compensation claim.

¶ 8 Michael Gilroy worked for Professional Property Management as a site manager at the Blackhawk Apartments. He testified at his deposition that his duties included snow removal. Sylvia Gilroy, his wife, was also employed as a site manager at the complex (and was employed by Blackhawk Apartments) and assisted Michael in removing snow. He explained that they both cleared snow at the complex from walkways, sidewalks, and back stairs. It was not the tenants' responsibility to remove snow from the rear staircases.

¶ 9 The management agreement between Blackhawk and Professional Property Management provided:

"I. Maintenance and Repair. The agent will maintain and repair Project in accordance with the management Plan and local codes, and keep it in good condition acceptable to the Owner and Rural Development at all times. This will include, but is not limited to, cleaning, painting, decorating, plumbing, carpentry, grounds care, energy conservation measures and practices; and such other maintenance and repair work as may be necessary, subject to any limitations imposed by the Owner in addition to those contained herein."

¶ 10 The lease agreement between Professional Property Management and Pumfrey provided in a section addressing the tenant's obligations:

"6. To keep the premises in a clean and sanitary condition, to maintain the yard, walks, porches, halls and other common areas used by the tenant(s) in a neat and orderly manner as prescribed by the owner/owner's agent, not to make any repairs or alterations without written consent of the owner/owner's agent *** and to notify the owner/owner's agent promptly of the need for any repairs to the premises."

¶ 11 In a section addressing management's obligations, the lease provided that management's obligations included:

"1. To maintain the buildings and any unassigned community areas in a decent, safe and sanitary condition in accordance with Rural Development regulations and any applicable local housing codes or ordinances. Failure of the owner/owner's agent to do so should be brought to the attention of the owner and/or Rural Development."

ΒΆ 12 A maintenance/caretaker agreement between Professional Property Management and Michael Gilroy provided that ...


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