Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 L 9403
Honorable Eileen M. Brewer, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE LAMPKIN delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Reyes and Justice Hall concurred
in the judgment and opinion.
1 Plaintiff Linh Phung Hoang Nguyen filed this personal
injury action seeking damages for injuries she sustained when
she stepped on a catch basin in a backyard and the lid gave
way. The Cook County circuit court granted summary judgment
in favor of defendants Nhutam and Hung Lam, who owned the
property on which the catch basin was located.
2 On appeal, plaintiff contends that granting summary
judgment was improper because she presented enough evidence
to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding
defendants' constructive knowledge of the dangerous
condition where the testimony and photographs of the rusty
catch basin lid and deteriorated surrounding concrete showed
those conditions had existed for a sufficient length of time.
Plaintiff also argues that she was not required to present
expert testimony about the duration of the dangerous
3 For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the
4 I. BACKGROUND
5 According to the parties' affidavits and deposition
testimony, in 1989, defendants purchased a two-story
residential building at 1414 W. Winnemac Avenue in Chicago
(the property) and lived there until 2010. Defendants
maintained the backyard of the property and allowed their
tenants to use the backyard, which contained a catch basin
with a metal lid. Defendant Mr. Lam noticed the catch basin
in 1989 when he and his wife purchased the property. The
previous owner told Mr. Lam to look into the catch basin to
make sure it did not get clogged with sewage, but Mr. Lam
never followed this instruction or advice because sewage
never came up the drain inside the home.
6 In 1992, defendants hired professional cleaners to clean
the well of the catch basin, and no one told Mr. Lam that the
catch basin needed additional work. Defendants never
performed any maintenance or repairs to the catch basin or
lid since they purchased the property in 1989, and the catch
basin has not been cleaned, inspected, or modified since
1992. Mr. Lam regularly inspected, cleaned, and swept the
backyard, repaired anything that was broken, cut the grass,
and shoveled the snow. He walked over the catch basin, had
seen others walk across it, and never noticed any problem
with the catch basin. Before plaintiff's injury, no one
told him that the lid was loose, out of place, or did not fit
properly. Just a few weeks before plaintiff's injury, Mr.
Lam cleaned the backyard area and did not inspect the catch
basin or notice any problem with it.
7 Plaintiff was injured in August 2014, at about 6 p.m.,
while she was walking on the sidewalk in defendants'
backyard. Specifically, plaintiff and her boyfriend had
parked his car in the garage located at the rear of the
property and were carrying groceries as they walked through
the backyard toward his parents' apartment. When
plaintiff's left foot stepped onto the lid of the catch
basin, it flipped to a vertical position and caused her to
fall into the well and straddle the edge of the vertical
metal lid. She sustained an injury to her groin area.
8 With the help of her boyfriend, plaintiff went inside the
apartment of his parents, and his mother telephoned Mr. Lam.
The mother was outside when Mr. Lam arrived at the scene and
saw that the lid was in the vertical position. He pushed it
down into place with his foot and stood on the lid with both
feet. The mother said that the lid was broken, but Mr. Lam
said that it was not. Mr. Lam did not see any blood at the
scene and did not believe that plaintiff ever fell into the
catch basin well.
9 Plaintiff went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a
vulvar hematoma, which required surgery. Photographs of the
catch basin were taken immediately after the occurrence. A
photograph of the lid in place on the catch basin shows that
the top of the lid is rusted and the circumference of the lid
is worn and deteriorated. Moreover, the circle concrete
surface surrounding the catch basin is deteriorated and has
two large cracks and a thinner crack. Those cracks span the
distance between the outside rim of the concrete circle and
its inside rim, which surrounds the lid of the catch basin.
Photographs of the lid tipped in a vertical position in the
catch basin show substantial corrosion of the concrete lip
upon which the metal lid must rest to remain stable and in
place. In these photographs, the rusted, uneven edge of the
lid is more obvious. A photograph of the lid removed from the
catch basin shows substantial corrosion and deterioration of
the lid, the concrete surrounding the catch basin, and the
concrete lip of the catch basin.
10 After plaintiff was injured, Mr. Lam initially placed a
board and a couple of chairs over the catch basin. About two
months later, workers lifted the lid, spread cement around
the lip of the catch basin, and replaced the lid.
11 In her negligence complaint, plaintiff alleged that
defendants failed to exercise reasonable care in the
ownership, maintenance, and inspection of their property.
Specifically, plaintiff argued that defendants failed to
maintain the catch basin and lid in a reasonably safe and
proper condition, failed to conduct reasonable inspections of
the basin and lid, and failed to repair or replace ...