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Trigsted v. Chicago Transit Authority

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

July 19, 2013

LETICIA ZAVALA TRIGSTED, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of VALERY TRIGSTED, a Minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY, a Municipal Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 09 L 12115, Honorable Thomas J. Lipscomb, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hall and Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

GORDON JUSTICE

¶ 1 The instant appeal concerns the liability of defendant Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) for injuries suffered by plaintiffs Leticia Trigsted and her daughter, six-year-old Valery Trigsted, when they were attacked while riding a CTA bus. Plaintiffs filed suit against the CTA, claiming that the CTA's negligent conduct in permitting the bus to become overcrowded increased the risk of attacks by third parties. The trial court granted the CTA's motion for summary judgment, finding that the CTA was immune from liability for failure to prevent third-party criminal acts and that plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the CTA's conduct proximately caused their injuries. Plaintiffs appeal, and we affirm.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 I. Complaint

¶ 4 On October 13, 2009, plaintiffs filed a complaint against the CTA alleging that, on May 27, 2009, plaintiffs boarded a westbound CTA bus at the intersection of Sacramento Boulevard and Belmont Avenue. As the bus continued on its route, it became overcrowded, especially at the intersection of Belmont and Kimball, "causing some passengers to begin pushing[, ] jostling and shoving each other" as the bus continued to its stop at 3558 W. Belmont. Two specific passengers, a man and a woman, "kick[ed] and punch[ed] other passengers, including [Leticia], while hurling insults regarding national origin" and squeezed Valery between them.

¶ 5 The complaint alleges that the CTA was negligent: (a) in permitting its bus to become overcrowded, "causing some passengers to begin pushing[, ] jostling and shoving each other"; (b) in permitting the two passengers to kick and punch other passengers and "hurl[] insults" "when the driver of the bus knew or should have known of this conduct and failed to do anything to prevent it"; and (c) in "encourag[ing] and facilitat[ing] the escape of Plaintiff's assailants before the police arrived."[1] The complaint alleges that as a result of the CTA's negligence, Leticia sustained physical injury, pain and suffering, and humiliation and that Valery sustained "trauma, fear and humiliation which has required her to receive medical care" as a result of being squeezed between the two passengers.

¶ 6 On December 30, 2009, the CTA filed its answer and affirmative defenses, denying the allegations in plaintiffs' complaint and claiming as affirmative matter that plaintiffs were barred from recovery because their injuries were caused by their own negligence and that the amount of their comparative fault was in excess of 50%. The CTA did not make any mention of statutory immunity in its affirmative defenses.

¶ 7 II. CTA's Motion for Summary Judgment

¶ 8 On December 20, 2011, the CTA filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that all of plaintiffs' allegations amounted to a claim against the CTA for failing to protect plaintiffs from the criminal acts of a third party, which fell within the purview of the statutory immunity provided to the CTA by section 27 of the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act (the Act) (70 ILCS 3605/27 (West 2008)), which provides in relevant part that "[n]either the Authority, the members of its Board nor its officers or employees shall be held liable for failure to provide a security or police force or, if a security or police force is provided, for failure to provide adequate police protection or security, failure to prevent the commission of crimes by fellow passengers or other third persons or for the failure to apprehend criminals."

¶ 9 The CTA also argued that its actions were not the proximate cause of plaintiffs' injuries, but, at most, plaintiffs claimed the CTA furnished a condition that made the injury possible. Consequently, the CTA claimed that it was entitled to summary judgment.

¶ 10 Attached to the CTA's motion for summary judgment were a number of exhibits, including a DVD containing the surveillance video recording from the bus on which the incident had occurred.

¶ 11 A. Leticia's Deposition

¶ 12 Also attached to the CTA's motion for summary judgment was the transcript of Leticia's discovery deposition, taken on April 25, 2011. Leticia testified that she moved to the United States from Mexico in 1990 and spoke fluent Spanish.

¶ 13 Leticia testified that, on May 27, 2009, she picked up her daughter Valery from school at Sacramento and Belmont and was traveling to a bank on the corner of Milwaukee and Belmont by taking the westbound route 77 CTA bus down Belmont Avenue. The bus stopped at Belmont and Kimball, across the street from a Blue Line L stop, at approximately 4 p.m. When she entered the bus, Leticia had been unable to find a seat because the bus was full, but as passengers departed the bus at Kimball, she was able to sit in a seat directly behind the rear door; Valery was sitting on Leticia's lap.

¶ 14 Leticia testified that at the Kimball stop, passengers entered the bus from both the front and rear doors. Leticia observed a CTA employee collecting fares at the rear door who permitted passengers to enter from the rear; the CTA employee did not ride the bus but remained at the stop. After people had boarded the bus at Kimball, the bus was "[p]retty packed."

¶ 15 Two particular individuals boarded the bus through the rear door at Kimball: an African- American man, who was approximately 6'2" and 240 pounds, and a Puerto Rican woman, who was approximately 5'1" and 150 pounds; the woman indicated that they were married. Leticia overheard the couple "talking loud and nasty" to a Mexican man in front of them who had also boarded the bus at Kimball; the woman was calling him names in Spanish and making derogatory statements about Mexicans, and the man was making similar statements in English. The Mexican man walked away and did not respond to the verbal attack. Leticia had "[n]o idea" what prompted the couple to make the inappropriate comments to the Mexican man and testified

"I don't know if he cut in front or what happened when he got in front of them"; she had observed the Mexican man walking in front of the woman at the bus stop, but did not observe him cutting in line.

¶ 16 Leticia testified that Valery became nervous and began crying in response to the bad language. Leticia asked the woman to lower her voice "and then she started going off to me." The woman began calling Leticia the same names that she was calling the Mexican man, still speaking in Spanish, and told Leticia to "go back to [her] country." Leticia asked the woman, "well, you're Spanish also. So Mexican, Puerto Rican, Spanish, right, what is the difference?" The woman responded that " '[a]t least I don't have to come to this country with [a] passport, ' " and Leticia decided to leave the bus because " '[t]hat's enough.' " The man was also calling Leticia names. Leticia testified that Valery was becoming afraid, so Leticia decided to leave the bus at Central Park and Belmont, four blocks before her planned stop.

¶ 17 The woman screamed something else at Leticia, but Leticia "[did not] want to hear it" and did not respond, because she was scared and wanted to leave the bus with Valery without further incident. Leticia attempted to exit the bus through the rear door at the Central Park stop, but the couple was standing near the rear door and blocking the exit. When Leticia attempted to exit the bus, "[t]hey kind of closed -- they put their legs together like to make me trip because I was taking my daughter in front. So they kind of squeezed my daughter's leg because I push[ed] her to get her off from the bus first." Leticia handed Valery to a woman outside the bus, lifting her over the couple's legs in order to exit the bus.

¶ 18 Once Valery was safely removed from the bus, Leticia attempted to step over the couple's legs, but they began pushing her. Leticia grabbed the handles on the bus door to keep her balance, and the couple began punching her in the head and back. Leticia turned to defend herself, and the man punched her in the face and kicked her in the stomach, while pushing her out of the bus. When Leticia exited the bus, she called 911. The dispatcher informed her that someone else had already called in the incident and the police were on their way.

ΒΆ 19 While Leticia was waiting for the police, she was holding onto the bus handrail and her leg was on the bus; the bus remained in a stopped position. The couple spoke with the bus driver, and the bus driver approached Leticia and told her to remove her leg because he was already late and needed to leave. She told him that " '[n]obody is going until the police get here.' " The bus driver returned to the couple and told them that they ...


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