Appellate court affirms ruling in personal injury suit in favor of defendants

By Andrew Thomason | Sep 9, 2013

The First District Appellate Court this month upheld a Cook County ruling that granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants in a personal injury suit.

In a Sept. 6 unpublished order, the appeals panel determined that Cook County Circuit Court Judge Drella Savage did not err when she granted summary judgment in favor of Chicago Park District and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241.

Justice Jesse Reyes delivered the court’s order. Justices Bertina E. Lampkin and Shelvin Louise Marie Hall concurred.

Tonisha Johnson filed suit after injuring herself during a softball game organized by the union in Chicago in 2009.The union organized the softball league for Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) employees to help relieve stress.

Johnson, a CTA employee at the time of the incident, claimed poor field conditions resulted in her not seeing a hole in the outfield, which caused her to trip and fall.

The initial complaint claimed the park district neglected the softball field, failed to warn about the conditions and engaged in willful and wonton conduct by neglecting the softball field. Her suit also alleged the union was negligent by failing to warn players about the field conditions and by failing report the conditions to the park district.

The circuit court entered summary judgment on all three counts in favor of the defendants. Johnson appealed, but only as to the counts alleging willful and wonton conduct, and negligence by the union.

Johnson’s appeal regarding willful and wonton conduct relies on her testimony and that from Darrell Jefferson, union president and the union’s sports director from 2001 to 2005.

Jefferson, according to the court's order, testified he heard complaints from softball players about holes in the field during his time as sports director and beyond, including during the year Johnson was injured.

He testified that about a dozen players were injured at Washington Park since 2001, though he didn’t provide details about the injuries.

Jefferson also testified that the league commissioner had the ability to move games to a different field if it was determined the initial field was hazardous, and would subsequently report the conditions to the park district.

Shirron Molette, maintenance foreman for the park district, and park district employee Cedric Mays both testified that neither had been notified by the league commissioner about any holes in the fields during the 2009 season.

The pair's testimony also outlined maintenance of the playing fields at the park.

“Johnson fails to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding the District's knowledge of the dangerous condition which caused her injury," Reyes wrote for the panel. "Moreover, the evidence establishes the District's regular maintenance of the softball fields, which indicates a concern for possible injuries, rather than a course of conduct displaying an utter indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of lives."

Johnson’s appeal dealing with the count claiming negligence centers on the voluntary inspection of the fields by the league commissioner.

She testified that she saw league commissioner Tony Owens inspecting fields prior to the date of her injury before league games, but did not see Owens inspecting fields the day she tripped and fell.

On behalf of the appeals panel, Reyes explained that the union’s duty to inspect the fields was limited, not indefinite.

He wrote, “Johnson's own testimony fails to establish any voluntary undertaking on the date of her injury and thus fails to establish any duty. … Johnson produced no evidence of any express promise by the Union to inspect the softball outfields prior to each game."

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