Thursday, May 7, 2009
Causation Missing in IL "Dead Person at the Foot of the Stairs" Case
A causation example many of us use in class is finding a dead person at the foot of a set of stairs. How are we to know whether a defect in the stairs caused the fall? The First Appellate District of Illinois recently decided a variation on this case in which the injured man wasn't yet dead, but soon would be. The [PDF] opinion in Strutz v. Vicere is here.
In the case, a man fell down the common stairs at the home he rented from the defendants. There were no eyewitnesses to the fall. When his wife found him, he stated, "I fell down over the railing." The administrator proffered expert evidence that the staircase was in violation of the City of Chicago Building Code in multiple ways (the treads were too small and the risers' height and tread widths were inadequate and uneven). In addition, the expert opined that lighting was inadequate, the handrail in the center was too low and uneven, and there was no handrail on the wall side of the stairs. There was some evidence that the decedent was waking backwards at the time of the fall, and that he had a problem with the circulation in his legs.
The circuit court of Cook County granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the appellate court affirmed, finding inadequate evidence of causation to create a genuine issue of material fact. The court noted that violations of an ordinance or code by themselves are not sufficient to establish proximate causation. The court does not discuss res ipsa, and it seems to me that the elements are lacking here.
Thanks to Mark Weber (DePaul) for the tip.