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Hastings v. Jefco Equipment Co., Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

August 1, 2013

DEIRDRE HASTINGS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JEFCO EQUIPMENT COMPANY, INC., Defendant-Appellee Roszak/ADC, LLC; Rockford Ornamental Iron, Inc.; TR Sienna Partners, LLC; and Sienna, Inc., Defendants.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 07 L 8478 Honorable Eileen Mary Brewer, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE EPSTEIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Lavin and Justice Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

EPSTEIN, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Plaintiff Deirdre Hastings appeals from the trial court's order granting summary judgment to defendant Jefco Equipment Co., Inc. Hastings was an ironworker employed by third-party defendant Area Erectors, Inc., at the Sienna condominiums construction site in Evanston, Illinois. On March 5, 2007, Hastings' shoulder and leg were injured when a load of steel beams being hoisted by a 90-ton crane fell from its rigging onto Hastings. In her amended complaint, Hastings asserted claims for negligence and premises liability against Jefco, the owner of the crane. She also brought claims against Roszak/ADC, LLC, the general contractor; TR Sienna Partners, LLC, the owner of the premises; TR Sienna, Inc., its manager; and Rockford Ornamental Iron, Inc., the steel fabricating company.

¶ 2 The record, developed through discovery, shows that on the date of the accident, Hastings and other Area ironworkers were unloading steel beams from the bed of a flatbed truck. In order to transport steel from the truck to a "shake-out" site, from which the steel would be moved onto the structure being built, the ironworkers used a 90-ton hydraulic truck crane owned by Jefco and operated by Greg Windbiel. At the time of the accident, Hastings was standing in the shake-out area, waiting for Windbiel to deliver a load of six steel beams. As Windbiel lifted the beams, they began to pivot counterclockwise in the air. As the load approached Hastings, it bounced three times, approximately 8 to 10 inches each time. Hastings reached up with her left hand and grabbed one of the columns in order to guide it, but as she took her hand off the column, one of the eyes "popped off the hook" of the crane and two of the steel beams struck her in the chest. Hastings fell, and one of the beams landed on and broke her right leg.

¶ 3 After the parties conducted discovery, Jefco moved for summary judgment. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Jefco on Hastings' negligence claim, finding that because the crane operator during the accident, Greg Windbiel, was a borrowed employee of Area, Jefco was not liable for Hastings' injuries. The trial court also granted summary judgment to Jefco on Hastings' premises liability claim. The trial court later entered an order, pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (Ill. S.Ct. R. 304(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010)), finding no just reason to delay the appeal. Focusing only on her negligence claim, Hastings' sole argument on appeal is that summary judgment was improper because questions of fact exist as to Windbiel's status as a borrowed employee.

¶ 4 We review the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment de novo. Outboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill.2d 90, 102 (1992). Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, admissions, depositions and affidavits demonstrate there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ioerger v. Halverson Construction Co., 232 Ill.2d 196, 201 (2008); 735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 2010). We construe all evidence strictly against the moving party and liberally in favor of the nonmoving party. Buenz v. Frontline Transportation Co., 227 Ill.2d 302, 308 (2008). While summary judgment can aid in the expeditious disposition of a lawsuit, it is a drastic measure that should only be permitted where the movant's right is clear and free from doubt. Williams v. Manchester, 228 Ill.2d 404, 417 (2008).

¶ 5 An employee in the general employment of one employer may be loaned to another for the performance of special work and take on the status of a "borrowed employee" while performing the special service. Kawaguchi v. Gainer, 361 Ill.App.3d 229, 240 (2005). If an employee is a borrowed employee at the time of allegedly tortious conduct, the employee's general employer cannot be liable for such conduct and any vicarious liability would rest on the borrowing employer. Behrens v. California Cartage Co., 373 Ill.App.3d 860, 863-64 (2007).

¶ 6 Our supreme court has long recognized "that the criteria reiterated in the Illinois case law for the existence of the master-servant relationship is the right to control, which includes the power of discharge." Gundich v. Emerson-Comstock Co., 21 Ill.2d 117, 123 (1960). Illinois courts have identified several factors to determine whether an alleged borrowing employer has the right to control an allegedly borrowed employee: the manner in which the performance of the employee's duties is directed, the mode of payment, the right to discharge, the terms of any written contract between the employers, and the general employer's ability to substitute among employees loaned to the borrowing employer. Kawaguchi, 361 Ill.App.3d at 240; Saldana v. Wirtz Cartage Co., 74 Ill.2d 379, 390 (1978) (noting that factors to determine control include "the matter of hiring, the mode of payment, the right to discharge, and the manner of direction of the services" (internal quotation marks ommitted)); see also Dowe v. Birmingham Steel Corp., 2011 IL App (1st) 091997, ¶ 30 (separating the "right to control" from factors such as the "right to discharge, " but noting that the right to control the manner in which the work is performed is considered to be the most important factor in determining status of borrowed employee). Other factors relevant to the question of borrowed employment include the level of skill required to perform the work; who deducts or pays for insurance, social security, and taxes on the employee's behalf; and the length of service for the special employer. Dowe, 2011 IL App (1st) 091997, ¶ 30; O'Loughlin v. ServiceMaster Co. Ltd. Partnership, 216 Ill.App.3d 27, 34 (1991).

¶ 7 "Whether a loaned employee status exists is generally a question of fact, but it constitutes a question of law if the facts are undisputed and capable of one inference." Prodanic v. Grossinger City Autocorp, Inc., 2012 IL App (1st) 110993, ¶ 15; Kawaguchi, 361 Ill.App.3d at 240. Our task is to review evidence in the record in a light most favorable to Hastings to determine if there are questions of material fact as to whether Windbiel was a borrowed employee of Area at the time of the accident.

¶ 8 Right of Area to Discharge Windbiel and Ability of Jefco to Substitute Employees

¶ 9 Hastings argues that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to Area's right to discharge Windbiel. "The alleged borrowing employer need not have the power to dismiss the alleged borrowed employee from his general employment; but, the alleged borrowing employer must have the power to dismiss him from the borrowed employment." Kawaguchi, 361 Ill.App.3d at 240 n.6.

¶ 10 In his deposition, Windbiel stated that he believed that Area had the authority to order him off the jobsite. But Brian Price, Area's foreman, testified that if Area wanted a different operator, it would find a different crane to lease:

"Q. If the crane lessee, in this case Area, had felt that the crane operator was incompetent or dangerous or didn't belong operating the crane, they could order that guy or girl off the job site, correct?
A. I don't know that we could tell them off the job site, but we wouldn't be operating with the crane, we wouldn't be working with the crane.
Q. You would call somebody else and lease a different crane?
A. Yes."

According to Price, if Area was unhappy with the crane operator, Area would find a new crane company. This suggests not that Windbiel became an employee of Area, but that Area had to settle for whomever Jefco sent to operate the Jefco crane. It is not as if Area relied on Jefco or Jefco's operators for all crane work: Area also had its own 45-ton crane, and when Area used that crane, Area used one of its own operators.

ΒΆ 11 Relatedly, nothing in the record suggests that Area had any input as to who would operate the Jefco crane. In his deposition, Windbiel stated that he was assigned to work at the Sienna site by Jefco's owner. Windbiel also explained that a 90-ton crane required an oiler (a mechanic for the crane), so typically he and Mike Olson worked together. It was not unusual for them to switch crane operator and oiler duty, as they did on the day of the accident, because they were both qualified to operate the crane. Yet there is nothing in the record that suggests Area had any control over who was operating the crane ...


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