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Bielema v. River Bend Community School District No. 2

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

June 18, 2013

ERICA BIELEMA, by Debra A. Bielema, Her Mother and Next Friend, and DEBRA A. BIELEMA, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
RIVER BEND COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 2, an Illinois Unit School District, Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois, Appeal No. 3-12-0808 Circuit No. 10-L-10 The Honorable John L. Hauptman, Judge, Presiding.

JUSTICE McDADE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lytton and O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

McDADE JUSTICE

¶ 1 Minor plaintiff Erica Bielema and her mother Debra Bielema filed a suit against defendant River Bend Community School District No. 2 after Erica slipped and fell in a puddle of liquid inside a school gymnasium. The complaint alleged that the District committed willful and wanton conduct which caused Erica to fall and sustain severe injuries. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the District, concluding that the undisputed facts did not demonstrate willful and wanton conduct on the part of defendant. We affirm.

¶ 2 FACTS

¶ 3 This case comes to us following an order granting summary judgment for the defendant, and no material facts are in dispute. From the pleadings, admissions, and depositions in the record, we adduce the following facts.

¶ 4 On August 21, 2009, the minor plaintiff Erica Biemela attended an event in the Fulton High School gymnasium and participated in an event which included a pep rally and volleyball scrimmage. Kathleen Schipper, the principal of the high school, also attended the event with her husband, Lynn Schipper. Lynn is a self-employed truck driver but also coaches basketball and track for the school district.

¶ 5 After the volleyball scrimmage concluded, someone sitting in the gymnasium's bleachers spilled Gatorade onto the floor, causing a sizeable puddle to form. Kathleen noticed the spill and directed Lynn to stand guard over it while she went to find materials to clean up the puddle.

¶ 6 Lynn stationed himself one to two feet away from the spill; however, he was not focused on the spill and engaged in a conversation with other individuals on his right hand side. Erica, whom Lynn had once coached, saw Lynn and ran up from the opposite side to greet him. When Erica reached him, she slipped in the puddle and fell to the floor; Lynn attempted to reach out to stop her fall but did not react quickly enough.

¶ 7 Erica and her mother filed suit in the circuit court of Whiteside County, alleging the District had committed willful and wanton conduct which caused Erica to fall and sustain severe injuries. Specifically, the complaint stated that the District, through its agents, had knowledge of a dangerous condition and failed to warn Erica of it, constituting willful and wanton conduct.

¶ 8 After pretrial discovery proceedings, the District moved for summary judgment, arguing that the conduct Erica complained of did not rise to the level of willful and wanton negligence. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the District. The court focused on the fact that Kathleen had directed Lynn to stand guard over the spill. It concluded that because Kathleen took some action to warn of and remedy the spill upon its discovery, the District and its agents did not demonstrate an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others. After the trial court denied her motion to reconsider, Erica filed a timely notice of appeal.

¶ 9 ANALYSIS

¶ 10 On appeal, we must determine whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the District. Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, admissions and affidavits on file, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveal that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2010). We review a trial court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Clark Investments, Inc. v. Airstream, Inc., 399 Ill.App.3d 209, 213 (2010).

ΒΆ 11 Erica's lawsuit seeks to hold the District liable for the injuries she sustained on the school's property. The Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) provides that local government entities like the District are not liable for injuries on public property used for recreational purpose "unless such local entity * * * is guilty of willful and wanton conduct proximately causing such injury." 745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West ...


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