Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Injury Case for Lack of Actual or Constructive Knowledge of the Product Defect

In 1993, the Luther Village Owners Corp. contacted Ken Bruce to see if he was interested in running a salon in their neighborhood. Bruce took ownership of the salon in 1994 and in 1996 formed Creative Designers, a corporation, which would run the salon. Bruce was president and operator of the salon.

Creative Designers employed all of the hairstylists who worked at the salon as independent contractors on one-year contracts. One of the stylists was the plaintiff, Ghada Hanna, who was hired in 2008.

The salon where Hanna worked was renovated by Luther Village in 2008. A series of “flip-top countertops” were installed, which could be tilted and locked into an upright position to allow increased reach and then be lowered again for counter space. Maintenance and modifications to the salon fixtures, including the countertops, was carried out by Luther Village.

In November 2010, Bruce decided to terminate Hanna’s contract based on customer feedback. She was given 30 days’ notice, with her last day of work being Dec. 31, 2010. However, an encounter between Bruce and Hanna’s daughter on Dec. 15, 2010 led to Hanna being let go at the end of business the following day.

As Hanna was closing her station on Dec. 16, she claimed that her countertop came loose from its upright position and fell, striking her on the head and neck and causing her to be injured. Hanna testified that the screws would sometimes come loose from the countertop, preventing it from locking upright and that she had reported it to Bruce repeatedly, although she was not able to mention specific times when that had occurred. Paramedics were summoned to the salon, but Hanna refused treatment, saying she wanted to see her own doctor.

In January 2011, Hanna sent Creative Designers a letter notifying them that she was injured on the job on Dec. 16, 2010 and was in compliance with the Workers’ Compensation Act. Hanna filed suit in November 2012, claiming premises liability against each of the defendants. Creative Designers filed for summary judgment, which the court granted, dismissing the case against it. Hanna appealed.

On appeal, Creative Designers argued that in accordance with the terms of its lease, Luther Village undertook a duty to maintain or repair the premises. Luther Village had carried out the 2008 refit that installed the flip-top counters and conducted routine repairs and maintenance on them. Creative Designers argued that this meant that they owed Hanna no duty of care since that rested with the lessor, Luther Village. The appellate court agreed.

The appeals panel stated that for there to be liability for any landowners, they must have “actual or constructive knowledge” of the defect. Hanna alleged that she told Creative Designers about the screws coming loose, but the court noted that no connection was made between screws and the counter coming loose and the latch that held the countertop upright.

In addition, the countertop had been operated by Hanna 6 or 7 times that day without her noticing or informing anyone of any defect. The appellate court found that summary judgment was proper on this alternative basis. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision dismissing Creative Designers.

Ghada Hanna v. Creative Designers, Inc., et al., 2016 IL App (1st) 143727.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, product liability cases, premises liability cases, auto accident cases, truck accidents, bicycle accidents and motorcycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Forest Park, Maywood, Bellwood, Franklin Park, Frankfurt, Lynwood, Chicago (Rogers Park, West Ridge, Pulaski Park, Ravenswood, Lincoln Square, Burnside, Chatham, Kenwood, Hyde Park, Lake Calumet, East Side), Park Ridge and Elk Grove Village, Ill.

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