In Williamson v. Evans Nail and Spa Corp., 2023 IL. App. (1st) 220084, the appellate court reversed the trial court's order granting summary judgment for the defendant-nail salon finding that plaintiff provided sufficient evidence to create an issue of fact on whether the failure of the defendant to provide: (1) a handrail was in violation of a local ordinance and (2) a sufficient slip resistant mat surrounding a pedicure pedestal created an unreasonably dangerous condition. The appellate court determined that the plaintiff had brought sufficient evidence to create a fact question regarding proximate cause in her slip and fall litigation.
Plaintiff, Marie Williamson visited Evans Nails & Spa Corporation's spa in Evanston, Illinois to have a manicure and pedicure. Like many salons, the chair where the services were performed was on a raised pedestal connected to a water basin. After her pedicure was completed, Williamson was provided a pair of disposable flip flops by the nail technician who asked her to step off the raised platform and proceed to the area where she was to have her manicure performed. As Williamson stepped down from the platform, she slipped and fell resulting in a broken leg. The entire incident was caught on the salon's surveillance camera.
Williamson filed suit claiming that Evans Nails was negligent for failing to warn her regarding the slippery floor, which caused her to fall. Evans Nails filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that there was insufficient evidence to show proximate cause as Plaintiff failed to identify exactly where she slipped. The circuit court granted the motion finding that the video was too blurry to see exactly how or why Williamson fell. The court reasoned that "Williamson's inability to state precisely where she slipped made it impossible to determine whether following an ordinance or industry standards would have changed the outcome." Williamson appealed and argued that Evans Nails' failure to install required handrails and place slip-resistant flooring around the pedicure station proximately caused her accident or at least created a genuine issue of material fact.
Violation of Local Ordinance as Prima Facie Case of Negligence
Williamson's fall was captured in its entirety on the nail salon's security camera, but the resolution of the film was low. Nevertheless, this video evidence served as the basis for the Williamson's controlled expert, Scott Leopold. Leopold is an engineer with relevant experience investigating slip and fall scenarios. He testified that the pedicure platform at Evans Nails was unreasonably dangerous because the salon failed to install a handrail as was required by local ordinance established by the City of Evanston.
"A violation of an ordinance designed to protect human life is prima facie evidence of negligence." Kalata v. Anheuser-Busch Cos., 144 Ill.2d 425, 434 (1991). A plaintiff pursuing a claim for negligence based on the violation of a local ordinance must show:
- "Belongs to the class of persons the ordinance was designed to protect.
- Is the type of injury the ordinance was designed to protect against, and
- The violation proximately caused the injury." McCarthy v. Kunicki, 355 Ill. App.3d 957, 970 (2005).
In Kalata, 144 Ill.2d at 434, the Illinois Supreme Court found that a plaintiff who testified that he slipped while stepping to the left side of the staircase to reach the handrail provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the absence of a handrail on the right side of the stairway proximately caused his injury. Id. at 438. In addition, in McCarthy, 355 Ill. App. at 971, the court also held that the plaintiff's fall allegedly caused by the absence of a handrail was sufficient to show proximate cause. sustained injury proximately caused by the absence of a handrail.
The ordinance in question applies to all commercial buildings in Evanston and is intended to protect customers, members of the public and others who frequent those buildings. Evans Nails operated in a commercial building in Evanston, which was subject to the ordinance and as a patron of that business, Williamson clearly belonged to the class of persons the ordinance was designed to protect.
The court also found that Williamson's deposition testimony and the video from the store served as "direct evidence in the record to support an inference that the absence of a handrail proximately caused her injury." Williamson's testimony that the nail technician tried to stop her fall by reaching out her hand further supported Williamson's testimony that the area was unreasonably unsafe.
A negligence claim requires that the following elements be successfully demonstrated by the plaintiff:
- Duty owed by plaintiff
- Defendant breached that duty, and
- Breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. Monson v. City of Danville, 2018 IL 122486.
Here, Williamson claims that the salon was negligent not only in failing to install handrails, but also for not placing a slip-resistant mat under the pedicure station. Although there was such a mat on the pedestal itself, there was not mat on the floor next to it. Williamson's expert testified that the local ordinance as well as industry standards called for a slip-resistant mat in all areas that could get wet, or have oil or lotion on them.
Evans Nails argued that Williamson could establish proximate cause because she did not know the exact location where she fell and the video evidence was too blurry to confirm the exact location. The defendant relied on a series of cases where there were no eyewitnesses to the slip and fall. The court, however, was unpersuaded by this precedent. The court stated, "These cases are plainly inapposite in a case such as this where a video camera recorded the entire accident. Further, the video shows individuals in the salon who clearly witnessed the fall and reacted to it." Even though Williamson could not say whether she slipped on the pedestal itself or the floor, she does remember that she reached for the nail technician's hand and that’s when the fall occurred.
The court found that pursuant to the local Evanston ordinance and Illinois case law, Williamson's account of the accident is sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. The court also held that Evans Nails argument that Leopold was not a qualified expert failed because his professional credentials were verified and he based his opinions on what he observed on the video and photographs of the chair, and his reading of the two depositions. The court reasoned that these facts qualified him as a valid expert witness even if he never visited the premises where the incident happened in person. "An expert may base an opinion on the expert's firsthand observation, the presentation of data at trial, or the presentation of data to the expert outside of trial and other than by his perception." Richard A. Michael, Illinois Practice, Civil Procedure Before Trial § 39:3. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded the case.