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Jones v. Steck

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

January 13, 2020

TESSA JONES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MARIA STECK, WILLIAM E. STECK, and GEORGE F. STECK, Defendants William E. Steck and George F. Steck, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit, Henderson County, Illinois. Circuit No. 17-L-3, Honorable Scott Shipplett, Judge, Presiding.

          LYTTON PRESIDING JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court with opinion. Justices O'Brien and Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          LYTTON PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Tessa Jones, was injured in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident that occurred on a levee in Henderson County. She filed a negligence complaint against Maria Steck, who was driving the ATV, and defendants William E. Steck and George F. Steck, who owned and maintained the levee on which the accident occurred. Defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming, among other things, that section 11-1427(g) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (ATV Statute) (625 ILCS 5/11-1427(g) (West 2014)) precluded premise liability. The trial court granted defendants' motion, finding that the ATV Statute applied, and Tessa appeals. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The facts in this case are not disputed. William and George Steck are brothers who own and operate approximately 2000 acres of farmland together with their siblings.[1] The farmland has been divided into multiple plots, and some are owned by individual family members. William and his family live in a house on one of the plots that he and his wife own. Three contiguous tracts of farmland owned by the Steck siblings lie to the west of William's house. On the other side of those tracts is a 10-acre elevated strip of land that was formerly owned by a railroad company. The railroad tracks were removed years ago, and the land is now used as a levee to prevent the Stecks' cropland from flooding. The levee is owned and maintained by William and George.

         ¶ 4 In July 2014, a portion of the levee washed out. William and George did not repair the damage because they did not frequently use the levee. After several months, vegetation grew over the area, making it difficult to see the breach.

         ¶ 5 On March 13, 2015, William's daughter, Maria, who was home from college for spring break, went to dinner with Tessa and some other friends. They all returned to the farm later that evening and decided to take a ride around the property. Maria and Tessa jumped in an ATV owned by George. Maria was the driver, and Tessa was the passenger. Maria drove through the field, across a road, and up onto the levee. As she proceeded along the top of the levee, she drove into the washout and crashed, injuring herself and Tessa.

         ¶ 6 Tessa filed a complaint against Maria for negligent operation of the ATV. The complaint also included two counts against William (count II) and George (count III) for failing to maintain the levee in a safe condition and failing to notify anyone about the breach.

         ¶ 7 In her deposition, Maria stated that she believed she had permission to travel on all parts of the farm. She acknowledged that she did not tell anyone she was taking the ATV and that no one gave her express permission to use the ATV that evening.

         ¶ 8 William and George moved for summary judgment. They argued that, under the ATV Statute, they did not owe Tessa a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition for use by an ATV. Alternatively, they maintained that summary judgment was appropriate because the breach in the levee was an open and obvious condition. The trial court granted defendants' motion, finding that the ATV Statute precluded liability and dismissed counts II and III of Tessa's complaint.

         ¶ 9 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 On appeal, Tessa argues that summary judgment was inappropriate because her premise liability claims against William and George are not barred by the ATV Statute.

         ¶ 11 The Premises Liability Act (Act) (740 ILCS 130/1 et seq. (West 2014)) imposes a duty on property owners to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. Section 2 of the Act states that "[t]he duty owed to such entrants is that of reasonable care under the circumstances ...


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