The City of Chicago is responsible for inspecting Chicago buildings and residences and making sure they are up to code. However, if a building owner is cited for code violations, there is only so much the City can do to persuade the building owner to maintain a safe environment. At some point, it becomes the building owner’s responsibility to safely maintain the property for tenants and visitors.
The Chicago personal injury lawsuit of James Doyle, Administrator of the Estate of Michael Doyle, deceased, v. Kendard Management Corporation, 07 L 1988, is an extreme example of what happens if a building owner elects not to follow the City of Chicago’s recommendations. The lawsuit was filed after 25 year-old Michael Doyle fell through the railings of a third-story porch. The case alleged that the building’s management company knew that the porch was unsafe, but failed to notify its residents or take timely actions to improve the safety of the building’s porches.
Doyle had been attending a friend’s New Year’s Eye party at 3180 N. Clark St. in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. According to eyewitness testimony, Doyle had been sitting in a chair with his back to the porch’s rails and was either attempting to stand or move his chair at the time of the porch accident. However, the legs of his chair became stuck in the porch floor’s slats, causing Doyle to slip and fall head first through the large gap in the porch’s railings. Doyle was immediately transported to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, but was pronounced dead on New Year’s Day.
During the course of the discovery process, the plaintiff’s attorneys discovered that prior to the porch accident, the building’s management company had been warned by the City of Chicago that its porch openings were “excessive and unsafe.” The City was referring to the two feet by eight feet gap that existed between the porch’s top and middle railings. This wide gap was excessive in comparison to the distance most Chicago apartments observed, yet the building declined to make changes.
At the time, the City was unable to force the building to modify its guard rails because it was not a formal provision of the City’s building code. While the City did later modify its building code to mandate a much smaller gap in apartment’s porch railings than existed at the 3180 N. Clark property, the building was still able to avoid making the required changes. Its lawyers were able to convince the housing court that it was grandfathered in and was not required to make the suggested changes.
The building would have likely continued its position of not modifying the porch railings had its liability insurance carrier not also identified the gap as unsafe. The insurance company recommended that the building insert metal mesh between the gap in order to improve the porch’s safety. This recommendation was made almost six months before Doyle’s fall, yet the building company had not moved beyond getting quotes from contractors.
The plaintiff’s attorneys argued that had the building made these proposed changes, that Doyle would not have fallen to his death from his friend’s porch. Plaintiff’s counsel was critical of the management company for failing to make the necessary changes once they were put on notice of the dangerous condition and for failing to put its tenants on notice of the porch’s dangers. The lawyers pointed out that it was not until after Doyle’s death that the management company informed its tenants of the dangerous condition and prohibited tenants from using the porch until the safety was improved.
In response to these allegations, the defendants contended that the building was never cited by the City of Chicago for porch violations and maintained that its property was up to date with all building codes. The defendants instead argued that the real cause of Doyle’s porch fall was his high blood alcohol content; Doyle was found to have a .365 blood alcohol level. However, a Chicago jury was prevented from deciding whether the building’s unsafe porch or Doyle’s intoxication was the cause of the fatal fall – the parties settled for $2.7 million. And while this personal injury case did not go to trial, it helped provide notice to Chicago building owners of the consequences of not maintaining safe environments for their tenants.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Chicago personal injury lawsuits for individuals and families for over 35 years, serving those areas in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Inverness, Woodridge, Glen Ellyn, and Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.
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