Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Finding for Hospital in Doctor’s Injury Case – Caburnay v. Norwegian American Hospital

A recent Cook County lawsuit was reviewed by the Illinois Appellate Court, which found that the trial judge had erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s personal injury claim. While the judge had held that the case facts supported a summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital, the appellate court found that there was sufficient evidence to support some of the plaintiff’s claims. Caburnay v. Norwegian American Hospital, 2011 IL App. (1st) 101740 (Dec. 23, 2011).

The injury in question occurred at Norwegian American Hospital. The plaintiff, Dr. Fernando Caburnay, was an anesthesiologist at the hospital and was waiting for an elevator at the time of his accident. It was a rainy day and a 6 ft. x 10 ft. rubber mat had been placed in front of the elevator. As Dr. Caburnay was stepping back from pressing the call button, he tripped backwards over the mat. The back of his head hit a couch, and he fractured his spine, leaving him a quadriplegic.

Dr. Caburnay filed a personal injury lawsuit against Norwegian American Hospital, the basis of which was their negligence in creating a dangerous situation in the form of the rubber and fabric mat. Dr. Caburnay testified that the mat was the cause of his injury; he tripped after catching his foot on a fold in the mat and falling backwards. However, the hospital denied liability for Dr. Caburnay’s injuries and filed a motion for summary judgment in which it asked the judge to dismiss the claims against Norwegian American Hospital. The judge complied, at which point Dr. Caburnay filed an appeal.

In its review of the case facts, the appellate court held that the trial court had incorrectly dismissed Dr. Caburnay’s lawsuit based on the fact that there still was still an undecided issue of fact. Dr. Caburnay had testified that he felt his foot catch on a fold in the mat; the court felt this testimony alone was enough to allow the jury to establish whether or not there was in fact a buckle in the mat.

Likewise, if we assume that there was a possibility of a buckle in the mat, then the hospital also could be shown to have created a dangerous condition in that it was using a mat that was prone to buckling. The hospital could have taken preventive action to prevent such buckling, such as taping the mat down. And while Norwegian American alleged that it was not liable because it did not have prior notice of the alleged fold, the Illinois Appellate Court held Dr. Caburnay did not actually have to establish that the hospital had prior notice of the potential defect.

Illinois courts have long held that when a defendant creates a dangerous condition the defendant’s notice becomes irrelevant. Bernal v. City of Hoopeston, 307 Ill.App.3d 766 (1999). Caburnay could avoid the notice requirement if he could establish that the mat was negligently placed in front of the elevator by the defendant, Norwegian. In order for Caburnay to win his lawsuit, he must prove the existence of a duty on the part of Norwegian and present evidence showing Norwegian’s breach of that duty and demonstrate injury proximately caused by that breach. Wojdyla v. City of Park Ridge, 209 Ill.App.3d 290 (1991).

In addition to its attempts to diminish Dr. Caburnay’s claims, Norwegian American also attempted to devalue Dr. Caburnay’s testimony by pointing out that he had not made any mention of the fold in the mat immediately after it occurred. In fact, the hospital further argued that when Dr. Caburnay later told an emergency room doctor about the event he merely mentioned that he “tripped,” but did not attribute it a carpet fold. However, the appellate court did not support the hospital’s line of reasoning. While the court agreed that Dr. Caburnay’s statements were vague, those statements alone were not enough to constitute an admission by Caburnay that he did not fall on a fold. In addition, the court pointed out that following the fall Dr. Caburnay was rendered a quadriplegic and was not thinking about mats and their folds.

Therefore, the court held that when viewed in the most favorable light to the plaintiff, there was enough evidence to suggest that a jury could find the mat’s fold to have caused Dr. Caburnay’s injuries. Dr. Caburnay’s testimony was sufficient to establish an issue of fact on whether or not Norwegian had breached its care to provide a safe and secure mat that was not prone to buckling. The appellate court thereby reversed the trial court’s motion for summary judgment and remanded the personal injury case back to trial court.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois personal injury cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Chicago’s Wrigleyville, Maywood, Chicago’s West Town, Niles, Oak Brook Terrace, Villa Park, Elmhurst, Northlake, Hillside, and Chicago’s Austin.

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