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Suit against Cougars, forest preserve for injuries continued

GENEVA – When the plaintiff’s attorney did not appear for a scheduled court date Thursday, attorneys for the Kane County Forest Preserve, Kane County Cougars and a caterer asked for a dismissal.

That was denied, and Kane County Circuit Court Judge Edward Schreiber rescheduled for Aug. 15.

Missing from the appearance was attorney Robert Bingle who represents sisters Mary Gaffney, who was a student at Northern Illinois University, and Abigail Gaffney, as well as Erin Gautille, both of St. Charles.

The three allege they were all hurt when officials failed to monitor hazardous weather conditions and get volunteers to a place of safety.

All three were struck and injured by picnic tables, tent poles and other debris when the storm hit Fifth Third Bank Ballpark on Aug. 4, 2012.

The three were at the stadium as volunteers for St. Charles East High School Band Boosters, helping serve concessions at a fundraiser.

The forest preserve district is named in the lawsuit because it owns Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, the stadium where the Cougars play.

The catering company is named because the volunteers were under its supervision as part of a fundraiser.

The Kane County Cougars also are named in the suit, which seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

The catering company, Professional Sports Catering, had filed court papers asserting it was not responsible for injuries during the storm because “injuries and damages were solely caused by an Act of God beyond the control” of the caterer.

Attorneys Edward Dutton and Patrick Kinnally, representing the forest preserve, also filed court papers to dismiss the complaint, asserting the district “is absolutely immune from liability for the exercise of judgment and discretion inherent in monitoring and responding to adverse weather conditions.”

The attorneys cite, among other things, that the state’s Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act  protects the forest preserve from a claim of injury related to the condition of any recreational property, also citing case law from six other decisions.

As to the allegation of willful and wanton conduct leading to the injuries, attorneys also cited case law in eight other decisions. Among them was a 1997 Illinois Appellate case of Koltes vs. the St. Charles Park District.

Linda Koltes was injured in 1994 when she was hit by a golf ball while waiting to tee off at Pottawatomie Golf Course. 

Koltes had alleged that the standing area for golfers waiting to tee off was in the flight path of golf balls and alleged, among other things, that the district was “willful and wanton” in not providing some fencing or altering the first tee’s design so that the area would not be so attractive to waiting golfers. 

The appellate court upheld the Kane County judge’s ruling that the park district was not liable for injuries. It also found that there was no “duty upon the defendant to provide fencing or warnings.”

Bingle said he did not come to court because he knew attorneys and the judge would be “just setting up a briefing schedule … [and] that nothing of substance would happen.”

Bingle said he was working on answering the court filings to be ready in August.

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