The recent Illinois appellate case of King v. El Paraiso Del Pacifico, Inc., 2024 IL App. (2d) 230026, has raised important considerations regarding the duty of care businesses owe to their patrons, particularly in relation to accidents caused by out-of-control drivers. In this case the court held that a car crashing through the front entrance of a restaurant was reasonably foreseeable and not an “intervening or superseding” cause of a patron’s injuries. The court determined that the accident fell within the scope of the business's duty of care. This decision is of high importance because previously the Illinois Supreme Court found there was reluctant to impose a duty to protect invitees against out-of-control drivers. This article will delve into the facts of the case, highlight the significance of this decision, and discuss its implications for businesses and insurance carriers in the state of Illinois.

Factual Background

On August 9, 2020, King was dining at El Paraiso when a vehicle driven by Melani Sanders crashed through the front of the restaurant, injuring him. King subsequently filed a lawsuit against both Sanders and El Paraiso's owner, alleging the restaurant acted negligently in maintaining a safe environment for patrons. Specifically, King cited the parking spaces directly in front of the restaurant were hazards and criticized the absence of protective barriers that could have prevented the incident.

El Paraiso responded with a motion for summary judgment, asserting that they had no duty to protect King from such unforeseeable accidents and that their actions were not the proximate cause of his injuries. They emphasized that it was not reasonably foreseeable for a vehicle to crash into the restaurant, nor that additional barriers would have definitively prevented King's injuries.

The evidence presented included the traffic crash report, photographs of the scene, and King's deposition. The crash report confirmed that Sanders mistakenly accelerated instead of braking, leading her vehicle to crash through the restaurant's front glass wall. Photographs illustrated the parking arrangement and the lack of barriers. King's deposition detailed the extent of his injuries, the events leading to the accident, and his subsequent challenges, including claims that the accident caused a negative impact on his life.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of El Paraiso. It found that although the defendant owed King a duty of care, King could not prove proximate cause. It also found the contention that if El Paraiso had installed barriers in front of the restaurant, King's injuries could have been avoided, was at most speculative. Instead, it concluded that Sander's act of driving into the restaurant was an independent, intervening cause that broke the causal connection necessary to establish proximate cause. Finally, the court noted that the lack of expert evidence presented by King essentially failed to support his contention that additional barriers in the parking lot could have prevented his injury.

The Duty of Care

King argued that El Paraiso owed him a duty of care as a business invitor to its invitees, a concept supported by precedent in Marshall v. Burger King Corp. (222 Ill. 2d 422). The trial court agreed, recognizing that El Paraiso had a general duty to protect its patrons.

In Marshall, the court found that "where the complaint alleged that the decedent was a customer at defendant's restaurant when a third party drove a car through the restaurant wall and killed him, the defendants owed the decedent a duty of care that a business invitor owes its invitees." That restaurant had a special relationship with its customers as it was open to the public. It went on to say, "It is reasonably foreseeable, given the pervasiveness of automobiles, roadways and parking lots, that business invitees will, from time to time, be placed at risk by automobile-related accidents." Id. at 442.

El Paraiso was a business open to the public and King was a customer at their establishment at the time of the accident. According to the precedent set in Marshall, the court determined that El Paraiso owed King a duty of reasonable care to protect against negligent acts of third parties. Included in that foreseeability formula, were accidents relating to vehicles. The court held that the accident in this case was not so far out of possibility that it would rise to the level of an unforeseeable intervening act.

Foreseeability and Proximate Cause

While the Supreme Court's ruling in Marshall v. Burger King Corp. focused on the duty to protect invitees, the King v. El Paraiso case emphasizes the importance of foreseeability in the context of proximate cause. King's first argument on appeal was that the trial court was incorrect in its finding that proximate cause was not established because the vehicle crashing through the restaurant was an intervening cause of his injuries. King argued that a crash of that type was reasonably foreseeable and therefore, a question of fact for a jury.

An intervening act must be "not only independent in origin but also unforeseeable." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 443, cmt. b at 473 (1965). In other words, the intervening act must be "both independent of the defendant's actions and so extraordinary as to fall outside of the class of normal events." "The negligence of a defendant will not constitute a proximate cause of a plaintiff's injuries if some intervening act supersedes the defendant's negligence, but if the defendant could reasonably foresee the intervening act; that act will not relieve the defendant of liability." Bentley v. Saunemin Township, 83 Ill.2d 10,15 (1980).

Ultimately, the appellate court found that Kind had presented a triable issue of fact. Although the defense argued that King was required to present evidence that the defendant was required by law, ordinance, or regulation to take protective measures, King argued that various measures could have prevented his injuries. The court found that a reasonable juror could conclude that measures such installing barriers on slanted parking spaces, a reinforced front window, or prohibiting parking directly in front of the restaurant could have potentially minimized or prevented King's injuries. The appellate court ruled that these arguments were reasonable and that a jury could potentially find El Paraiso's failure to implement such measures as a proximate cause of King's injuries.

Whether or not El Paraiso was required to take these measures is a question of breach, which the court did not address on appeal. Instead, it mentioned these potential mitigating factors to emphasize that these measures were not speculative as the defense contended.

El Paraiso also argued that it "merely furnished a condition that made King's injuries possible" and that the injury was caused by the a "subsequent, independent act" of a third party. Given this, it asserted that proximate cause was not present. "If the negligence charged does nothing more than furnish a condition by which the injury is possible, and that condition causes an injury by the subsequent, independent act of a third person, the creation of the condition is not the proximate cause of the injury." First Springfield k. Tr. v. Galman, 188 Ill.2d 252, 257 (Ill. 1999). The Galman case also set forth a test for proximate cause: "Whether the defendant might have anticipated the intervening cause as a natural and probable result of its negligence." Id.

In the end, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to present the case to a trier of fact to decide whether or not proximate cause could be established. The court's decision reaffirms that businesses must anticipate and take reasonable measures to prevent accidents that can be reasonably foreseen, including incidents involving out-of-control vehicles.

Expert Testimony

The appellate court disagreed with the trial court's requirement that expert testimony was necessary to establish proximate cause. It held that the issues at hand, such as the placement of protective barriers, were within common knowledge and did not necessitate expert analysis. The court cited Jones v. Chicago HMO Ltd. Of Illinois, 191 Ill.2d 278, 296 (2000), where the necessity of guardrails was deemed understandable by an average person without expert input. Not only are expert opinions generally unnecessary but they may also be inadmissible on matters of common knowledge unless the subject is difficult to comprehend or explain. Hernandez v. Power Construction Co., 73 Ill. 2d 90, 98-99 (1978).

Based on precedent as well as common knowledge of the situation involved in this case, the court concluded that King was not required to provide expert evidence. Ordinary human experience and common knowledge was sufficient.

The Findings of the Appellate Court

The appellate court reversed the trial court's summary judgment, concluding that:

  • Sander's act was not an unforeseeable intervening cause that absolved El Paraiso of liability.
  • Expert testimony was not necessary to establish proximate cause in this context.
  • King presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact on whether El Paraiso's alleged breaches proximately caused his injuries.

Implications for Businesses

The ruling in King v. El Paraiso serves as a reminder to businesses in Illinois of their duty to ensure the safety and well-being of their patrons. It highlights the need for businesses to assess potential risks and implement appropriate safety measures to mitigate foreseeable harm. Neglecting this duty may expose businesses to liability claims, potentially leading to financial consequences and damage to their reputation.

Implications for Insurance Carriers

Insurance carriers operating in Illinois should take note of the King v. El Paraiso decision and its implications for liability coverage. The ruling underscores the importance of businesses having adequate insurance coverage to protect against claims arising from accidents caused by out-of-control drivers. Insurance carriers should encourage their policyholders to review and update their coverage to ensure they are adequately protected in light of this decision.

Moving Forward

The significance of the King v. El Paraiso case lies in its clarification of the duty of care businesses owe to their invitees, specifically in situations involving out-of-control drivers. This decision builds upon the precedent set by the Illinois Supreme Court in Marshall v. Burger King Corp., which established a duty to protect invitees against such incidents. This ruling underscores the responsibilities of businesses to protect their patrons from foreseeable risks and clarifies the parameters of proximate cause and duty of care in negligence claims.

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