Earlier this month, some teenage trouble-making, in the form of trespassing in a vacant hospital, turned deadly when one of the teens, 16-year-old Jose Morales, fell through a hole in the floor. He dropped two stories before landing and suffered internal injuries and head injuries. He was later pronounced dead at the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, reports the Chicago Tribune .
His family filed a lawsuit against the building owners earlier this week.
The building, which has been vacant since the 1990s and is set to be torn down in the near future to make way for a new school, had a mixed history of safety and code violations.
Back in December, the owners were cited for not maintaining the building in a safe condition, leaving it open without a guard, failing to register the building as vacant, failing to post contact information of the owner on a vacant building, and not repairing or demolishing a vacant building.
By March, inspectors had declared that the building had been properly sealed off. However, after the July 2 accident, inspectors declared that it had not been properly sealed. On July 3, the owners received a permit to secure or take down the fire escape that the teens used to sneak into the building.
On the one hand, the building owners’ liability seems to be pretty high here. Illinois has repealed building owners’ liability for injuries to trespassers, unless they are children. For children, the common law rule still applies. According to FindLaw, the rule for children is:
A property owner/possessor must give warning if he or she knows (or should know) that children are likely to be on the premises, and that a dangerous condition on the premises is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death. In order to find liability, the owner/possessor’s need to maintain the dangerous condition (and the burden of eliminating it) must be low when compared with the risk to children, and the defendant must have failed to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise protect children.
For the owners, and their co-defendants, the demolition company responsible for sealing off the property, there are certainly arguments to be made in their favor. They made attempts, that were temporarily successful, to seal off the building from trespassers. Also, the burden of repair or demolition is pretty high here. According to NBC Chicago, demolition is expected to take up to six months due to the environmental concerns of asbestos and lead.
So, the building owner has made attempts to seal off the building and is making plans to demolish it. They can’t move any faster due to environmental regulations. In hindsight, they probably could have taken down the fire escape sooner (which also required permits and time), hired full-time security, or repaired the building before demolishing it.
It’ll be up to the court to decide whether that was too great of a burden compared to the danger presented to trespassing children.
- Consult a Chicago Personal Injury Attorney (FindLaw)
- Family of teen killed in fall at Ravenswood building sues (Chicago Sun-Times)
- Homeowner Liability: Invitees, Licensees, and Trespassers (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- You Trippin’ Boo: The Law of Slip and Fall (FindLaw’s Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog)