Appeals court revives man's slip-and-fall lawsuit vs Palatine sports bar

By Jenna Lyons | Jun 14, 2019

A three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court has revived a lawsuit brought by a man who claimed a restaurant should be held liable after he slipped and fell on the property. 

 The case dates back to 2015, when former bus driver Michael Heider fell on a wet floor March 13 at JL’s Pizza and Sports bar in northwest suburban Palatine. A Cook County judge ruled Heider had no case, because he could not demonstrate how the water got on the ground, nor provide any evidence suggesting employees knew about the safety hazard. 

In appellate court, Presiding Justice Mary Mikva delivered a judgment and opinion reversing the circuit court decision, finding that only circumstantial evidence was needed for the case to proceed to trial. Justices Daniel J. Pierce and Carl Anthony Walker concurred in the decision. 

“Because Mr. Heider has presented some evidence, albeit circumstantial evidence, that the wet floor he slipped on existed for approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes prior to his fall, whether JL’s Pizza had constructive notice of a dangerous condition on its property is a question of fact for the trier of fact to resolve,” the court stated. “Summary judgment was improper.” 

David Gagner, the owner of JL’s Pizza, bought the business a day before the incident, and had no prior experience running a bar or restaurant, according to the court. He, a server and a bartender were present when Heider fell. 

Gagner previously testified that a carpeted floor mat with non skid rubber backing measuring approximately two feet by four feet had been placed near the door where Heider fell. It appeared the mat was moved before the fall, according to Heider. 

At the time of the incident, the lighting in the entryway was fine and Heider appeared to be looking straight ahead and not at the ground, according to testimony. He had two 12-ounce beers at the eatery, but was not intoxicated, according to statements from himself and two co-workers who were at the sports bar with him. He slipped, and immediately noticed the ground was wet, according to the court. 

The bar has “wet floor” signs in their mop closet but, at the time of the incident, there were no signs. Charles Brace, a co-worker who took photos at the scene, had told the court that the floor was damp in an approximately 12-inch by 9-inch area. 

After multiple surgeries, Heider uses a cane and is unable to run or do strenuous exercise, according to the court. He still has three screws in his ankle, court documents state, and still feels leg soreness from time to time. 

While there is no debate of whether the ground was wet, the point of question is if the staff knew of the wet cement floor or whether the spill was on the ground for long enough that they should have known. 

“Here, the important thing about Mr. Heider’s testimony is not that he did not see any employee inspect the entryway while he was at JL’s Pizza, but rather that during that entire time he did not see anything that could have caused water to get there, indicating that the dampness was there the whole time,” Mikva wrote.

Heider has been represented in the case by attorneys Albert Salvi and Michael Maher, of Waukegan, according to Cook County court records.

JL's Pizza has been represented by the firm of Morse Bolduc & Nardulli, of Chicago.

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Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois First District Appellate Court Morse & Bolduc Salvi & Maher

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