Illinois Premise Liability Issues Reviewed: Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court Ruling Regarding Franchisor’s Duty

An Illinois McDonald’s employee brought an Illinois premise liability lawsuit against the store franchise and McDonald’s Corporation after she was attacked on the restaurant’s premises. Her lawsuit, Lawson v. Schmitt Boulder Hill, Inc. and McDonald’s Corporation, No. 2-09-0026, explores the issue of what degree of duty a corporation owes to its franchisee’s employees.

In this case, Lawson, part-time McDonald’s employee, was attacked as she was parking her car to the side of the restaurant’s parking lot. In her complaint, Lawson alleged that before she could enter the restaurant that she was robbed, abducted, and assaulted. Lawson claimed that this attack and following injuries were the cause of the defendants’, McDonald’s Corporation and its franchise, negligence and the inadequate security provided.

The plaintiff alleged that McDonald’s Corporation was liable for her injuries because it published standards for its franchises to maintain regarding parking lot lighting as well as other policies and procedures to ensure the security of employees and patrons. Furthermore, it was alleged that it is McDonald’s policy to monitor and enforce its standards, which it does by regularly sending McDonald’s security personnel to its restaurants to confirm franchises’ compliance with the company’s rules and regulations. Plaintiff used this information to show that McDonald’s Corporation, and not just the individual franchise, had a duty to ensure her security while on McDonald’s premises and the failure to do so was the basis for her Illinois premise liability claim.

However, McDonald’s Corporation disagreed and filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint that alleged that it owed no duty to the plaintiff to provide adequate security under Illinois law. The corporation’s motion was granted by the trial judge, which dismissed the claim against the corporation.

The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Illinois Appellate Court, alleging that the trial court had erred in dismissing her claim against McDonald’s Corporation. The Appellate Court sided with the plaintiff and reversed the lower court’s ruling because McDonald’s Corporation had failed to meet the required burden of proof.

According to the Illinois Appellate Court, in order for McDonald’s to defeat the plaintiff’s claim, it was required to show that it owed no duty of care to the plaintiff. McDonald’s had failed to do so at the trial level and had therefore not met that burden.

Furthermore, the Appellate Court noted that the facts showed that McDonald’s did in fact require compliance by its franchisees with its security procedures. Yet, the Court pointed out that “McDonald’s affidavit does not indicate whether McDonald’s produced a security ‘bible’ where it maintained any security committees or whether any McDonald’s employee served as security supervisors for its franchisees’ operations”. Therefore the corporation had failed to show whether they they met the duty owed to plaintiff.

The plaintiff’s case against McDonald’s was returned to the lower court. However, the plaintiff’s claim against the franchisee itself has been dismissed as she is not able to pursue a claim against her employer since her injuries occurred in the course of her employment at McDonald’s. Therefore, the plaintiff is limited to receiving exclusive remedy for this portion of her lawsuit via the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act since this specific claim is against her employer.

Illinois workers’ compensation claims would be those that specifically deal with injuries sustained in the course of one’s employment. Unlike an Illinois personal injury lawsuit, workers’ compensation claims are handled by the Illinois Industrial Commission (IIC) instead of at the Illinois Circuit Court level.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois premise liability lawsuits for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Wilmette, Oak Park, Naperville, and Hoffman Estates.

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