Illinois Appellate Court Finds No Duty Owed to Third-Party When Waitress at Restaurant is Injured by Industrial Sized Roll of Toilet Paper That Struck Her on Head in Public Restroom

In a jury trial over a 3-day period in 2018, the jury returned the verdict in favor of the plaintiff, a restaurant waitress, Raona Pearson. The damages for her injuries were awarded against the defendant, Pilot Travel Centers LLC. Pilot filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), which was denied by the trial court as were both parties’ motions for directed verdict at the close of all evidence.

Pilot appealed the verdict and the court’s denial of motions for directed verdict.

From the evening of April 7, 2016, Pearson was working as a waitress at a Denny’s restaurant located inside of a truck stop in East St. Louis, Ill. The truck stop was owned by the defendant, Pilot. Both customers and employees of Denny’s had available to them public restrooms located within Pilot’s truck stop. Denny’s did not have public restrooms of its own.

While working her shift, Pearson went to use Pilot’s public restroom around 9 p.m.  Upon entering the restroom, Pearson headed to the stall she typically used, which was a designated handicapped stall located farthest away from the restroom entrance. As she entered the door and entered the stall, Pearson was struck on the top of her head by an industrial-sized roll of toilet paper. There were no other persons in the restroom at the time of this incident. There were no witnesses to directly observe the event.

The plaintiff’s third amended complaint alleged that Pilot chose not to manage and maintain its premises, failed to periodically inspect the restrooms for the presence of a hazardous or dangerous condition, decided not to provide safe ingress or egress to the restroom stall, and Pilot allowed and permitted the premises to become and remain in a hazardous condition, which it knew or should have known existed.

Pearson testified at trial about the facts and how she was injured. On cross-examination, she admitted that she believed the roll of toilet paper was an obvious object that she would have noticed if she would have been looking up toward the top of the restroom stall door. She further acknowledged that a fair number of individuals use this particular’s women’s restroom throughout the day.

There were no witnesses to articulate the reason why any Pilot employee would have placed the toilet paper in a position that resulted in Pearson’s injuries. There was no evidence of a Pilot employee being responsible for the placement of the toilet paper, and thus the appeals panel analyzed this matter as though the toilet paper was placed there by a third party.

The issue for the appellate court was duty of care. The evidence showed that no employees of Pilot knew of toilet paper being placed on top of a stall door, and had no actual or constructive notice of its presence there. It was not reasonably foreseeable for Pilot to expect this dangerous condition to be created by a third party, Denny’s.

In this matter, plaintiff argued that a special relationship did exist between her and Pilot at the time of the incident. The plaintiff argued that she was an employee of Denny’s located within Pilot’s truck stop. She was not an employee of Pilot itself.  Thus, because Pilot held itself out for business and provided restrooms for the use of the public at the time of the incident, Pilot and the plaintiff stood in a relationship of business invitor and invitee.

Pilot denied that it was a business invitor or had an invitee relationship with the plaintiff. The general rule is that a landowner has no duty to affirmatively protect persons from harm or the actions of third parties on his or her property unless there is a “special relationship” between the parties. Hills v. Bridgeview Little League Association, 195 Ill.2d 210, 228 (2000).

Thus, if that special relationship is not present, Pilot would not owe a duty to Ms. Pearson to protect her from the acts of a third-party on its premises. In order for a business invitor/invitee relationship to exist, a person must enter or be present on the land or of another by express or implied invitation, the entry must be connected with the owner’s business or with an activity conducted by the owner on the land, and the owner must receive a benefit. Gonzalez v. Kennedy Mobil Service, Inc., 274 Ill.App.3d 1077, 1084 (1985). Unfortunately, because this issue appears to not have been adequately addressed by the parties prior to this appeal and Pilot has not addressed the issue in its briefing on appeal, the appeals panel was unable to properly analyze to determine whether the plaintiff and Pilot would have in fact met the requirements required for the existence of a business invitor/invitee special relationship and must find that Pilot has failed to sufficiently preserve its denial contained within its answer to the plaintiff’s complaint.

Finally, the appellate court determined that it was not foreseeable that this incident would have occurred. The only evidence that the plaintiff pointed to in support of a finding of foreseeability was that Pilot had noticed that patrons would occasionally pick the lock on the toilet paper dispensers, would take the toilet paper rolls out, and would “mess with” the toilet paper by tearing the toilet paper, leaving pieces on the floor, leaving the roll itself in places other than the dispenser, such as on the back of the toilet or the sink counter.

In conclusion, when the facts were considered as a whole, they did not support the finding of a duty on the part of Pilot, the defendant. Accordingly, the jury’s verdict was reversed and remanded with directions for further disposition.

Pearson v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, 2020 IL App (5th) 180505 (Jan. 27, 2020).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling premises liability cases, work injury lawsuits, brain injury cases and nursing home abuse lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Western Springs, Maywood, Oak Park, Oak Lawn, Oak Forest, Itasca, Morton Grove, Northbrook, Deerfield, Buffalo Grove, Highwood, Glenview, Skokie, Schaumburg, Chicago (Douglas, Bronzeville, Back of the Yards, Forest Park, Hyde Park, Wrigleyville, West Englewood, Garfield Ridge, Brighton Park, Near West Side, North Center, Albany Park, West Rogers Park, Jefferson Park), Norridge, Franklin Park, Frankfort, Joliet, St. Charles, Geneva, Elk Grove Village and Niles, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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