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Sims v. Chicago Transit Authority





APPEAL from the Second Division of the Appellate Court for the First District; — heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. LEE W. CARRIER, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied November 15, 1954.

In a proceeding for damages for personal injuries sustained by plaintiff, Vera Sims, when she was struck by a streetcar, the circuit court of Cook County entered a judgment on a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $25,000, which the Appellate Court reversed, and entered judgment notwithstanding the verdict for defendant Chicago Transit Authority. This court has allowed plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal therefrom, and the cause presents the single question of law of whether the judgment notwithstanding the verdict was proper.

In adjudging the propriety of that judgment, it is the duty of this court to examine the record and determine whether there is any evidence, which, taken with its intendments most favorable to the plaintiff, tends to prove the essential elements of the complaint. Seeds v. Chicago Transit Authority, 409 Ill. 566, 571; Mirich v. Forschner Contracting Co. 312 Ill. 343, 355.

From the record it appears that plaintiff adduced evidence that at 4 P.M. on August 1, 1947, she was riding as a passenger on defendant's southbound streetcar, which fact defendant disputes, apparently en route to her work at a restaurant located at the southeast corner of Clark and Superior street, in the city of Chicago. Ordinarily defendant's streetcars do not stop at Superior Street, which lies between Chicago Avenue and Huron Street, where stops are regularly made. It was therefore customary for plaintiff to alight at Huron Street and walk back one block north to her place of employment. At the time of the alleged accident, however, about 15 of defendant's southbound cars, including the one in which plaintiff was riding, were blocked from a point 100 feet south of Superior Street, where there had been an accident, to about a third of a block north of Superior Street. That line of standing streetcars obstructed the north and south crosswalks at Clark and Superior streets, where there was only a narrow passage in the middle of the intersection through which east and west vehicular and pedestrian traffic could move. However, the southbound automotive traffic adjacent to defendant's streetcars moved freely, according to the testimony of plaintiff's witnesses.

The streetcar in which plaintiff had been riding discharged the passengers and permitted plaintiff to alight at about one third of a block north of Superior Street. Plaintiff left the car at the front and proceeded to walk between it and the streetcar ahead in order to cross to the east side of the street. The evidence is conflicting as to how far plaintiff proceeded before she was struck by one of defendant's northbound cars.

Although plaintiff was unable to testify as a result of her brain injuries sustained in the accident, witnesses on her behalf testified that she stopped directly in front of the southbound car from which she alighted. The distance between the two modern streetcars as they pass was at most 12 inches, and according to the evidence adduced by plaintiff the northbound car approached at a speed of 20 miles an hour without giving any warning signals. When plaintiff saw the car descending upon her, she threw up her hands and screamed. As she did so, she was struck on the wrist by the projecting ventilator of the northbound car with such force that her wrist and the steel ventilator were both broken, and she was knocked to the ground. As she fell she struck her head against the bumper of the southbound car on which she had been a passenger, and it is uncontroverted that her body came to rest in front of that southbound car and between the southbound rails. She sustained a skull fracture and certain brain injuries.

Defendant offered testimony that plaintiff had proceeded heedlessly east of the southbound car and was between the two sets of tracks when she was struck; that the speed of the northbound car was about 6 to 10 miles an hour; and that proper signals were given by the operators of the car.

On the basis of substantially the foregoing evidence the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $25,000, upon which the circuit court entered the judgment which the Appellate Court reversed.

On this appeal plaintiff contends that the Appellate Court improvidently considered the evidence offered by defendant, the inferences therefrom, as well as inferences dehors any evidence in determining that the judgment notwithstanding the verdict should be entered; and that the evidence offered by plaintiff established that she was in the exercise of due care at the time of the accident which was proximately caused by defendant's breach of its duty of highest care owed her as a passenger. Defendant, however, contends that even though the Appellate Court may have purported to consider all the evidence, nevertheless, its decision in defendant's favor was predicated on the ground that plaintiff was contributory negligent as a matter of law, and that no evidence of defendant's negligence was adduced.

In determining whether there is any evidence fairly tending to establish that defendant was negligent, the record shows that plaintiff had been a passenger on defendant's streetcar. This status has been deemed to continue and to exact from the car company the highest degree of care until the passenger is furnished with a safe place to alight. (Pennsylvania Co. v. McCaffrey, 173 Ill. 169.) However, after a passenger has safely alighted, the company owes only a duty of ordinary care. (Davis v. Southside Elevated Railroad, 292 Ill. 378.) Courts are not in harmony in determining when the status of passenger ceases, and the cases have been reconciled according to the rationale that the degree of care imposed diminishes as the danger involved in the situation lessens.

In the Davis case, relied upon by defendant, a discharged passenger fell on a banana peel on the stairway leading from an elevated station, and the court held that there was only a duty of ordinary care which was not breached since defendant had no notice of the condition. The court explained that in the cases where the highest degree of care was imposed the accident happened in boarding or alighting from cars, or in the course of their moving, where the hazards are great, but that by the weight of authority the same degree of care is not required as to the stations and approaches to and from such cars, since the danger incurred in such surroundings is not as great.

The court, however, cited and distinguished the case of Chicago Terminal Transfer Co. v. Schmelling, 197 Ill. 619, relied upon by plaintiff herein, where the railroad had not provided a platform at the regular train stop, and the court held that the relation between a passenger and a railroad does not terminate until the passenger has alighted from the train and left the place where passengers are discharged, and that it was the duty of the railroad to provide a safe means of access to and from its station. In that case, quoting from Pennsylvania Co. v. McCaffrey, the court stated: "It is its duty, not only to exercise a high degree of care while the passenger is upon the train, but also to use the highest degree of care and skill, reasonably practicable, in providing the passenger a safe passage from the train."

Plaintiff maintains that there was no reasonably safe way to proceed when she alighted, hence her status as a passenger continued until she had a reasonable opportunity to reach a place of safety, and defendant owed her the highest degree of care. Defendant, however, argues that plaintiff was discharged in a place of safety where she would ...

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