Illinois Appellate Court Finds in Favor of Property Owner Where There was No Actual or Constructive Notice of Danger

Carolyn Catchot slipped and fell at a shopping mall called the Shops at North Bridge in December 2008. She claimed that she had not noticed water on the floor before she fell, but as she lay there she found her hands and pants were damp with water and noticed a maintenance worker holding a mop and a bucket nearby.

A housekeeper for UNNICO, Sead Hodzic, was responsible for patrolling the area of the mall where Catchot fell. Hodzic’s rounds would have taken him through the area about 10 minutes before the fall and again about 2 minutes before it. As was his practice, after he passed through the area, he walked about 60 feet farther to the end and then returned and noticed Catchot on the floor.

Catchot filed a lawsuit against UNNICO, which was the maintenance and janitorial service for the mall. She also named as a defendant Macerich Management Co., which manages the mall. Catchot claimed in her lawsuit that both defendants were negligent in their maintenance of the premises and that their negligence was the cause of her injuries.

Macerich argued that because UNNICO was an independent contractor, Macerich was not liable for any negligence on its part. The trial judge agreed with Macerich and granted summary judgment dismissing it from the case.

UNNICO also moved for judgment as a matter of law claiming that none of the facts that were alleged showed any negligence. The trial judge again agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. Catchot brought this appeal.

The Catchot appeal included both the court’s dismissal of Macerich and its judgment as a matter of law in favor of UNNICO. The appellate court, however, pointed out that Catchot’s brief “makes no effort to distinguish between the two defendants.” Therefore, the court found no reason to overturn the Circuit Court’s decision finding that Macerich was not liable because UNNICO was an independent contractor.

The appellate court then turned its attention to the case against UNNICO. The trial judge granted UNNICO summary judgment but on different grounds. The appellate court looked carefully at the trial judge’s decision pointing out that in cases of injuries due to slippage caused by a substance, liability can be imposed on the proprietor only if the substance were placed there by employees, or if the proprietor or the employees had either actual or constructive notice that the hazard existed.

As the appellate court examined deposition testimony, it found that Catchot never claimed that any of the employees placed the water in the area. Though Catchot maintained that she saw an employee with a mop and bucket, there was no evidence that the area had recently been mopped by any employee.

As no employee was alleged to have made the puddle, Catchot’s case then turned on whether UNNICO or its employee had actual or constructive notice of the hazard. The evidence showed that UNNICO employees made regular sweeps looking for such hazards. Hodzic made two such sweeps of the area within 10 minutes before Catchot fell and found no evidence of a spill.

Catchot did not allege that the area was wet when Hodzic surveyed it. In fact, Catchot testified that she herself had not seen the water when she fell. As there was no evidence that UNNICO or anyone in its employ had either actual or constructive notice of the puddle, the appellate court supported the Circuit Court’s conclusion that summary judgment in favor of UNNICO was correct. The court accordingly, affirmed the decision of the trial judge granting summary judgment in favor of UNNICO.

Carolyn Catchot v. Macerich Management Co. and UNNICO Service Co., 2014 IL App (1st) 132111-U.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling car accident cases, truck accident cases and motorcycle 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 Palatine, Deerfield, Wheeling, Vernon Hills, Elk Grove Village, Chicago (Lake View, Roscoe Village, Printer’s Row, Pulaski Park, Rogers Park, South Shore, Wrigleyville, Little Italy, Lincoln Park, Hyde Park, Humboldt Park), Lemont, Mundelein, Norwood Park, Northbrook, Lincolnshire, Lincolnwood and Fox River Grove, Ill.

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