by W. Anthony Andrews and Chloe Cummings (Fall 2019)

Contrary to popular belief, a premise owner is not liable for all injuries to guest that occur on its premises, particularly when the owner is unaware of the claimed defect.

In Milevski v. Ingalls Memorial Hospital, 2018 IL App (1st) 172898, Tome Milevski sued Ingalls Hospital for negligence after Milevski was injured while working at Ingalls. At the time of   the incident, Milevski was a telecommunications analyst employed by Siemens and was working in the telecommunication room at Ingalls. As he stopped on a raised floor designed to cover cables, the floor collapsed causing Milevski injury as he stepped on it.

Milevski admitted that he did not notice any defect with the flooring during his work at Ingalls. However, Milevski argued further that it did not matter whether he or Ingalls had notice of the defective condition because Ingalls could have found this defect upon a reasonable inspection of its premises.

At the trial court level, the judge granted judgment for the building owner because there was no evidence that the owner was aware of any danger. Plaintiff appealed.

To evaluate the issue of whether Ingalls had adequate notice of the defect, the appellate court first looked to the obligations of a business, such as Ingalls Memorial Hospital, to maintain its property. Property owners have a duty to exercise ordinary care in maintaining their property in a reasonably safe condition. A business owner breaches duty to an invitee who is injured by a condition if: (1) the defect was caused by the negligence of the proprietor; (2) its servant knew of its presence or; (3) the defecte was there for a sufficient length of time so that, in the exercise of ordinary care, its presence should have been discovered.

The third prong of this test, discovering the hazard in the exercise of ordinary business, is called constructive notice. In order to establish constructive notice, Milevski must establish that the defect was present for a sufficiently long time to constitute constructive notice. In Milevski, the raised flooring had been in place without issue for a period of 30 years. During this 30-year period, no one had reported a defect in the condition of the flooring, disclosed injuries, or notified Ingalls hospital that the floor could be hazardous. Plaintiff himself also testified to walking on the floor immediately before his injury without any incident.

Therefore, the floor was in working order immediately before the incident and it would have been impossible for Ingalls to have constructive notice. Therefore, the court found that Ingalls had no constructive notice because one cannot find constructive notice without evidence of how long the defect existed. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the judgment in favor of the building owner.

Milevski clarifies that a building owner must have adequate knowledge of a defect in order to be found negligent. Where a building owner does did not know of the defect that caused a plaintiff’s injury nor caused the defect itself, it is likely that the entity would not be found negligent.