Can a Store Be Held Negligent If a Driver Loses Consciousness and Drives Into the Store ?

In Simmons v. Aldi-Brenner Co., 162 Ill. App. 3d 238, 515 N.E.2d 403, 113 Ill. Dec. 594 (1987), a patron of an Aldi grocery store lost consciousness as she was driving into the store's parking lot, and consequently drove onto the store's sidewalk and through the glass front wall of the store, injuring and killing several other patrons. A negligence action was brought against Aldi for failing to guard against the prospect of a car penetrating the store. At trial, the victims' expert testified that Aldi breached its duty of maintaining reasonably safe premises. Among Aldi's specific safety lapses, noted the expert, were its failure to erect a concrete bulwark or parking bumpers and its installation of a sidewalk that, because it sloped upward toward the store, acted as a ramp. However, on cross-examination, the expert made the significant admission that "it would be speculation to say that if any of the safety features discussed had been present, they would have prevented [the car] from entering the store." Simmons, 162 Ill. App. 3d at 243. Viewing that admission as decisive, the appellate court reversed the jury verdict against Aldi: "When considering all the factors present in this case, we come to the conclusion that a duty did not legally exist requiring Aldi to protect against the injury caused by the automobile. As plaintiffs' expert stated, it would be mere speculation to say that his recommended safety features would have prevented the entry of the car. This case does not involve a vehicle rolling into the storefront. It involves a driver losing consciousness and accelerating into the building without evidence of immediate braking. It would amount to mere speculation to determine what would have stopped the vehicle in the absence of extensive engineering studies and testing. Even if there had been a frame or concrete-block partial wall, the entry could have taken place. If parking in front of the store had not been allowed, the unconscious driver may still have driven through the store's front wall. Under the facts present in this case, we find that placing a duty on Aldi to protect against this type of accident is an unreasonable burden. While one could contend that everything is foreseeable, we hold foreseeability as a matter of law was not present in this case. A contrary opinion would place a burden on every store, near a street or parking lot, of constructing barriers adequate to prevent any car from being driven into the building." Simmons, 162 Ill. App. 3d at 244.