Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of Injury Claim Against Personal Trainer for Willful and Wanton Acts

The plaintiff, Maria Papadakis, was injured when she slipped and fell on an unsecured piece of equipment while exercising at the defendant health club under the supervision of the personal trainer. The court was found to have erred in dismissing counts alleging willful and wanton acts by the personal trainer; it was sufficiently pleaded in the complaint of respondeat superior liability for willful and wanton conduct and negligence of the personal trainer.

Papadakis sued the health club, its corporate affiliate and the personal trainer, Chad Drake, for negligence and willful and wanton conduct. She also sued the Fitness 19 Defendants under a theory of respondeat superior for the conduct of their employee, Drake.

The trial court dismissed the direct claims of willful and wanton conduct against the Fitness 19 Defendants but left intact the willful-and-wanton allegations against the personal trainer, Drake. That was the ruling that was challenged in this appeal.

The trial court later entered summary judgment on all negligence claims, based on a waiver-of-liability clause in a contract plaintiff signed with the health club. To the trial court’s thinking, that left standing only a single count: the direct claim of willful and wanton conduct against the personal trainer, Drake, with no viable claims against the Fitness 19 Defendants.

The plaintiff did not challenge the trial court’s ruling that the waiver-of-liability clause barred all negligence claims. Plaintiff challenges only a sliver of the summary judgment ruling.  Plaintiff says that the respondeat superior counts against the Fitness 19 Defendants (Counts 2 and 6) allege not only the employee’s negligence but also his willful and wanton conduct. Thus, while she does not challenge the grant of summary judgment on Counts 2 and 6, insofar as they concerned Drake’s negligence, Papadakis claims that those counts should stand to the extent that they challenged his willful and wanton acts.

After the grant of summary judgment, Papadakis filed a motion to reconsider to make this very point – that Counts 2 and 6 should be read as including willful-and-wanton allegations and thus, to that extent, should have survived the summary judgment ruling. The trial court did not read the complaint the same way, writing that its summary judgment ruling “did not address counts of willful and wanton conduct against [the Fitness 19 Defendants] because such counts were not pled in the second amended complaint.”  (Emphasis added.)

In addition, the trial court denied the plaintiff Papadakis leave to file an amended complaint.

The court held that there is no question that Papadakis has a cognizable claim of willful and wanton conduct against Drake, nor is there a question that the Fitness 19 Defendants could be liable, in theory, for Drake’s willful and wanton acts. The only issue is whether plaintiff actually alleged that the Fitness 19 Defendants were liable for Drake’s willful and wanton conduct, as opposed to merely his negligent conduct, in Counts 2 and 6 — the respondeat superior counts. The trial court believed that Counts 2 and 6 did not allege willful and wanton acts – only negligent acts.

The complaint alleged that during the seven weeks of workouts before the date of the incident, Drake had instructed Papadakis to use the plyometric step, but “only in the rubber floor area of the fitness facility,” where “the plyometric step was secured against a solid surface, e.g., a wall, as to prevent it from moving while being utilized.” But on the day of this incident, Nov. 29, 2012, Drake placed the plyometric step “in the carpeted area” of the fitness facility, where it “was not secured against a solid surface,” nor did the step contain “anti-slip or anti-skid feet” or “ridges on the top of it.” Due to its age, “the bottom of the plyometric step was worn off and it had a smooth surface.”

In plaintiff’s complaint, it was alleged that the personal trainer knew that the step was unsecured and knew about all of these aspects of the step that made it prone to slipping.

In fairness to the trial court, the plaintiff could have done a much better job of delineating her claims in the second amended complaint. When the trial court entered summary judgment on all counts pertaining to negligence, based on the liability–waiver clause in the health club contract, the court was understandably not focused on the nuances of Counts 2 and 6. But when Papadakis filed her emergency motion to reconsider summary judgment as to Counts 2 and 6, calling this point to the trial judge’s attention, the motion to reconsider should have been granted. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order insofar as it entered summary judgment as to the willful and wanton claims in Counts 2 and 6 and remanded this case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

Papadakis v. Fitness 19, IL 116, LLC, 2018 IL App (1st) 170388, June 28, 2018.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling jury trials, Illinois Appellate and Federal Appellate cases, catastrophic injury lawsuits and wrongful death cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Westmont, Westchester, Hinsdale, Rolling Meadows, St. Charles, Hoffman Estates, Hillside, Elk Grove Village, Elmhurst, Olympia Fields, Flossmoor, Worth, South Holland, Blue Island, Chicago (Canaryville, Bridgeport, Hyde Park, Chinatown, West Loop, South Loop, South Shore, West Rogers Park, Garfield Park, Irving Park, Jefferson Park, Belmont Harbor, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Pill Hill, Roscoe Village, Beverly), Arlington Heights, Schiller Park, Deerfield, Buffalo Grove, Wheeling and Joliet, Ill.

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