Illinois Appellate Court Determines Statement Falls within the Hearsay Exception Under Illinois Rules of Evidence 803

The Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District has reversed and remanded a case decided in the Circuit Court of Cook County. In August 2011, Virginia Jahrke arrived at the health club belonging to Capital Fitness Inc. for her usual one-hour training session.

After she finished her session, she went into a locker room and changed and started to walk out. As she was walking, she slipped and fell on something wet on the floor.

On Dec. 7, 2011, Jahrke filed a lawsuit against Capital in the Circuit Court of Cook County alleging that the company chose not to properly maintain the locker room or provide warning of a slippery floor and that its negligence caused her to slip and fall, injuring herself.

The defendant Capital Fitness filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that a clause in Jahrke’s membership contract exculpated it from any negligence claims, specifically including slipping and falling.

Jahrke then filed an amendment complaint. She also filed a discovery deposition of the operations manager at the health club and a copy of the incident report.

The incident report stated that “Martina the porter said that another woman had just finished showering and had hair product as well as water on the floor in that area. This woman does this every day apparently and we will be talking to her upon her next visit.”

From this statement, Jahrke argued that Capital knew about the dangerous conditions and took no steps to protect members or warn them of the conditions. The Circuit Court judge excluded the incident report as being hearsay and granted summary judgment in favor of Capital. Jahrke appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court.

On appeal, Jahrke argued that the court should have considered the incident report as a business record and thus would be an exception to the hearsay exclusion under Illinois Rules of Evidence §803(b)(6), which deals with records of regularly conducted activity.

The appeals panel noted that incident reports are not normally admissible under this exception because “accident reports are prepared in anticipation of future litigation rather than in the ordinary course of business, and the motivation in their preparation may affect their trustworthiness.”

However, the court noted that this rule “does not apply where a report is sought to be admitted against the party who prepared it.”

Because Jahrke was attempting to admit an incident report made by the defendant, Capital, in support of charges against Capital, the report is rendered admissible.

Parts of the report were considered admissible. The appellate court then had to re-examine the question of whether a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Capital’s behavior was wanton and reckless.

The court found that, based on the incident report, there was an issue of fact to be determined by a jury or factfinder.

The appellate court therefore reversed the decision and remanded the case for further consideration.

It was noted by Justice Gordon that the incident report was prepared by employees of the defendant. Justice Gordon pointed out that if those statements are damaging to Capital, they are party-opponent admissions, and therefore admissible regardless of their status as “business records.” The admissions against interest section of the Illinois Rules of Evidence is found at §804(b)(3). Justice Gordon also said the admission of the incident report as being a business record was “not only incorrect, it is not needed in the analysis of the case.” Therefore, Justice Gordon’s comments about the analysis of the case were considered a “specially concurring” opinion that sided with the majority and majority opinion, but on these different grounds.

Virginia Jahrke v. Capital Fitness, Inc., 2015 IL App (1st) 140067-U (March 31, 2015).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, Illinois medical negligence cases, birth injury cases, wrongful death cases and truck accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Lansing, Fox River Grove, Hinsdale, Lemont, Kenilworth, Park Ridge, Oak Park, Northbrook, Schaumburg, Schiller Park, Justice, Hickory Hills, Chicago (Brighton Park, Englewood, Bridgeport, Canaryville, Kenwood, Oakwood, Washington Park, Jackson Park, South Shore, Pill Hill, Pullman, Roseland, Riverdale, Polish Village, Andersonville, Roscoe Village, Norwood Park, Edison Park, Sauganash), Bensenville and Elmhurst, Ill.

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