Illinois Appellate Court Reverses and Remands Case on Proximate Cause for Uncorrected Danger

Khalil Bell and his mother, Kimberly Street, lived in a Chicago area apartment. On March 10, 2008, the heat in their apartment was off. To warm the apartment, she turned on the stove and put pots of water on the burners to create steam. After the water had reached the boiling point, she took the pots off the stove.

According to her deposition testimony, one burner was left on and uncovered when she went to take a shower. While Street was showering, her son Khalil, who was living with her, walked into the kitchen. When he did so, his shirt caught on fire burning him severely. On behalf of Khalil Bell, a minor, Street filed a lawsuit against the landlady and building manager, Helen Bakus and Nimo Rasho.

The lawsuit alleged that the building owner, Bakus, and the building manager, Rasho, had been notified about the unsafe placement of the stove in the apartment and about the lack of heat in the apartment. Street testified at her deposition that neither of the problems were remedied.

The kitchen was of an unusual design. The stove bordered directly onto the hallway where Khalil had passed. When Khalil moved into the apartment, Street objected to the stove’s placement in the kitchen; according to her deposition, she gave notice to both Bakus and Rasho about that condition. According to Street, Bakus had stated that the stove would be moved. The lease did not contain any terms about the moving of the stove or its placement.

The stove was never moved. Bakus and Rasho denied ever hearing about the stove from Khalil. Bakus claimed that the heat was functioning in the apartment at all times.

After the burn accident, Street asked Bakus to write a note to give to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services to show that the stove would be moved. Bakus signed the document stating that “the counter that need[s] to be installed next to the stove in the apartment will be accomplished this week.” Street also said that Bakus also promised to fix the heat. No repairs were made.

Plaintiff’s attorney disclosed an architect who testified at deposition that the stove was placed in a dangerous position and likely would cause an injury. Street’s lawyer argued that Khalil was owed a duty of reasonable care and that Bakus and Rasho should have corrected any dangerous condition.

Bakus and Rasho maintained that Street’s decision to leave the stove on and unattended while she showered was the sole proximate cause of Khalil’s injuries. They argued that “this open flame broke any chain of causation” and freed them from liability. In addition, they stated that the written lease did not include any terms relating to the placement of the stove.

Bakus and Rasho moved for summary judgment and the trial judge granted it finding it that Street’s decision to leave a burner on shielded Bakus and Rasho from liability. Street, acting for Khalil, appealed.

The appellate court viewed the case differently. The appeals court acknowledged that the possibility that the stove’s location was not the proximate cause, but the court did find that taking all of the well-pleaded facts in the best light, it was sufficient to establish the proximate cause of Khalil’s injuries.

The location of the stove was shown to be a cause of the injury to Khalil, who brushed by it unintentionally. Adding to this was the architect’s testimony about the location and position of the stove being dangerous. The appellate court found that Street had provided sufficient evidence showing that his injury was not only caused by the stove, but was foreseeable, making it the legal cause as well.

The Illinois Court of Appeals found that the mother-son pair had presented evidence that the location of the stove was both the legal cause and the cause, in fact, and could be considered the proximate cause of Khalil’s injuries.

Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Khalil Bell v. Helen Bakus, Abnoel Bakus and Nimo Rasho, 2014 IL App (1st) 131043 (Aug. 5, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling injury cases, automobile accident cases, burn accident cases, fire accident cases and trucking 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 Evergreen Park, Elmwood Park, East Hazelcrest, Hazelcrest, Niles, Des Plaines, Morton Grove, Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Naperville, South Barrington, Barrington Hills, Hanover Park, Chicago (Andersonville, Albany Park, Lake View, Koreatown, Jefferson Park, Hyde Park, Humboldt Park), Chicago Ridge and Bedford Park, Ill.

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