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Anderson v. Chicago Transit Authority

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District

June 28, 2019

CAROLYN ANDERSON, as Independent Administrator of the Estate of JEROME ANDERSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY, a municipal corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 18 L 1172. The Honorable John H. Ehrlich, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE LAVIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Pucinski and Hyman concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 This case stems from Jerome Anderson's ("decedent") fall from a Chicago Transit Authority ("CTA") train platform onto the electrified "third rail," which resulted in his death. His sister, Carolyn Anderson, was appointed to administer his estate[1] and filed a Wrongful Death and Survival Act lawsuit against the CTA, alleging, in the main, that the CTA failed to properly monitor decedent's activities on the platform and assess his physical/medical condition while he lingered there for some 30 minutes without ever boarding a train. The CTA filed a motion to dismiss under section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2016)) based on the allegations of the complaint and the CTA's attached surveillance video of the platform. The video footage captured decedent's actions before the fall, the fall itself, and the emergency response that followed.[2] The trial court granted the CTA's motion. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Plaintiff's Complaint & the Videos

         ¶ 4 On June 1, 2017, around 9 a.m., decedent allegedly paid his fare and entered the Kedzie-Homan CTA Blue Line station, allegedly to board a Loop-bound train. The first short video clip shows decedent, who appeared about age 50, walking with a normal gait down the station bridge, toward the CTA platform, where he purportedly intended to board a Loop-bound train. The second and lengthier clip shows that decedent had entered the station's 12-foot-wide platform, flanked on either side by train tracks, with each track maintaining a "third rail" at the outer edge. Once on the platform, decedent stood there about 30 minutes with some 11 trains passing on both sides of the tracks. These trains were bound west toward Forest Park and east toward the Loop (and eventually O'Hare), as passengers gathered and boarded trains without reacting or appearing to notice decedent. Decedent remained mostly in the middle of the platform, sometimes holding onto a pillar and sometimes hunched, along with an episodic stumbling or wobbling observed on the surveillance video.

         ¶ 5 On several occasions, he entered the two-foot, blue-colored detectable warning tile, located on both sides of the platform's edge as an apparent measure to remain compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2016)). In one instance, for example, decedent stood on the warning tile while a Forest Park train entered the station. Decedent appeared as though he might board the train, although it's not entirely clear that he was actually at the train door, but then decedent hunched slightly and backed away. In another instance, decedent, while standing near the warning tile zone, leaned over, but then caught himself and then moved back towards the middle of the platform. Thus, decedent never boarded any CTA train on the morning of his death, but rather appeared to be a CTA customer who was weighing whether to enter a train.

         ¶ 6 During this period of time, it is alleged that several CTA maintenance employees and train operators observed decedent and could have observed his incapacities, although the video depicts no interaction with him. In the first several minutes of decedent's entry on the platform, for example, a CTA custodian walked along the platform, sweeping up debris, but decedent was not even visible to the camera. Decedent later emerged from a middle platform pillar after the custodian had passed by and left, but there is no indication the custodian took any notice of him or interrupted his custodial duties. The operators on the trains that went through the station possibly could have seen decedent, but there is no video proof of that either.

         ¶ 7 In the final seven minutes before his death, the video shows decedent drinking from a bottle or can which he later dropped to the platform surface. Just then a group of other CTA customers took notice of decedent, looking back at him as they passed by. Several minutes later, decedent then shoved the bottle/can with his foot closer to the warning tile zone. Then, after another few minutes passed, decedent tripped or stepped on the bottle/can, knocking it into the trackbed before he toppled over the track and landed facedown on the third rail, where he was electrocuted. No train was approaching when he fell on the track. Oddly enough, neither party's brief on appeal acknowledges the presence of the bottle/can in the moments leading up to decedent's death, but it is apparent that a combination of decedent's alleged medical condition and his interaction with the bottle/can rather directly led to his unfortunate fall and death.

         ¶ 8 In the complaint, plaintiff alleged that during decedent's 30 minutes on the platform, he was having a "medical emergency" as a result of his diabetic condition, although plaintiff did not attach any documentation or autopsy reports in support of that allegation. Specifically, it is alleged that he was "in an obvious state of distress due to a diabetic shock," which caused his unusual behavior as noted on the video, prevented him from "standing upright and boarding a train," and led to his fall onto the tracks, where he died.

         ¶ 9 Accordingly, in filing her complaint, plaintiff claimed wrongful death, common-carrier negligence, alleging that decedent was a CTA passenger to whom the CTA owed the "highest duty of care," and that the CTA negligently failed to fulfill its duty insofar as the employees (1) failed to approach decedent to assess his condition even though he was displaying "clear signs and symptoms" of a "medical emergency"; (2) failed to summon medical aid or assistance even in the face of those symptoms; (3) failed to turn off the third-rail electrical power or implement other safety measures "after learning that he was stumbling" on the platform; (4) failed to notify emergency response personnel; (5) failed to adequately monitor the platform; (6) and was otherwise careless and negligent. Plaintiff alleged that decedent's death was a direct and proximate result of negligence by the CTA and its employees.

         ¶ 10 In addition, plaintiff claimed wrongful death, alleging decedent was a business invitee to whom the CTA owed an ordinary duty of reasonable care but was negligent for the same reasons as set forth for common carriers. Plaintiff also raised these allegations in a Survival Act claim.

         ¶ 11 It is noteworthy that in plaintiff's complaint, other than the failure to monitor/summon medical aid, there is no allegation that decedent's death was directly caused in whole or in part by the conduct of another person. There is no allegation that he was pushed, pulled or lured onto the tracks. There is no allegation of a claimed defect on the platform itself that contributed in any way to the events that led to his accidental fall. In fact, the only obstruction on the platform was supplied by decedent himself, when he dropped and then shoved a bottle/can to the platform's edge. Finally, there is no allegation that the CTA failed to warn decedent of the danger of the electrified third rail.

         ¶ 12 Motion to Dismiss and Responsive Pleadings

         ¶ 13 As noted, the CTA subsequently filed a section 2-619(a)(9) motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, attaching the aforementioned video clips. The CTA argued that it had no legal duty to assess decedent's medical condition, render assistance, or notify emergency personnel, let alone to turn off the third rail of the tracks. The CTA also argued that imposing such a duty would be unduly burdensome given the magnitude of the CTA's operations. In support, the CTA noted that in 2015, CTA trains ran on 224.1 miles of track, making about 2, 145 trips daily, while servicing 145 stations. The annual ridership had reached 241.7 million, with the total ridership at the Kedzie-Homan Blue Line station being 405, 253. The CTA argued that permitting plaintiff's lawsuit would thwart its primary purpose of providing public transportation to Chicagoans.

         ¶ 14 The CTA also argued that decedent was not a "passenger" because there were "no allegations that [he] was riding, boarding, or alighting a CTA vehicle at the time he sustained injury," and as such, the CTA did not owe him the "highest duty of care" associated with the common-carrier/passenger special relationship. Plaintiff, in a responsive pleading, insisted that decedent was a passenger and the special relationship between the CTA and decedent required the CTA to protect him from unreasonable risk of physical harm and render first aid after it knew or had reason to know that decedent was ill, as well as to care for him until he could be cared for by others.

         ¶ 15 The Trial Court Judgment

         ¶ 16 As will be delineated below in some detail, the trial court ruled that the CTA, although a common carrier, did not owe decedent a duty to protect him from falling onto the tracks. Citing the rule that a contractual relationship between the passenger and common carrier begins when the passenger presents himself at the place of transport with the intent to board, the court found decedent was a passenger. As such, the court concluded that a special relationship of common carrier and passenger existed between the CTA and decedent. In addition, the court found a business invitor-invitee relationship existed. Nonetheless, the court determined a legal duty did not extend from the CTA to protect decedent by specifically monitoring his behavior or attempting to assess whether he required medical attention as he lingered on its platform.

         ¶ 17 The court analyzed the case from the traditional four-factor duty analysis, first finding that while decedent's medical condition was reasonably foreseeable, his fall onto the electrified third rail from the platform was not. The court wrote, the "tremendously tragic event is simply not the type of injury process the CTA should reasonably foresee as a result of a passenger-invitee suffering an insulin reaction (or any other emergent medical condition)." Second, the court found it was unlikely that one suffering from "an emergent medical event would come into contact with the third rail." Third, and significantly, the court concluded that the magnitude of guarding against the injury was too great, as the CTA was not duty-bound to intervene, assess, diagnose, or obtain medical assistance for decedent's condition, as that fell within the ambit of first-responders, and it was unduly burdensome for normal CTA employees. Similarly burdensome was turning off the third-rail's power based on decedent's observable and arguably erratic behavior. Fourth, the court concluded the consequences of placing additional burdens on the CTA were too great, given that a contrary ruling would extend liability to many other public service providers who failed to accurately assess medical conditions and would also interrupt CTA services.

         ¶ 18 The court therefore held that the duties plaintiff proffered were, as a matter of law, not recognized in Illinois, since decedent essentially met his fate as a result of his own medical condition and his odd platform peregrinations, and not ...

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