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Threatt v. United States Steel Corp.

October 20, 1960


Author: Hastings

Before HASTINGS, Chief Judge, and DUFFY and MAJOR, Circuit Judges.

HASTINGS, Chief Judge.

Dock Threatt and Francis Smith sued United States Steel Corporation for damages because of personal injuries alleged to have been sustained as the result of an automobile accident in Chicago, Illinois. Jurisdiction was based on diversity of citizenship. There was a trial by jury which returned a verdict finding defendant not guilty as to either plaintiff, and judgment for defendant was entered thereon. Both plaintiffs have appealed from this adverse judgment.

Appellants assert error in the denial of their motion for a directed verdict at the close of all of the evidence; in the denial of their post-trial motion to set aside the verdict and for judgment in their favor with a jury trial on the question of damages only, or in the alternative, for a new trial; in the giving of an alleged erroneous instruction to the jury; and because of alleged improper cross-examination of plaintiff Threatt as to his criminal record and comment thereon to the jury by defendant's counsel. Appellants charge that the jury verdict was opposed to the manifest weight of the evidence.

Looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to defendant, we find from the record the following relevant facts.

The accident occurred on May 7, 1956, at a wide and busy three-street intersection in the city of Chicago. Stony Island Avenue (a north-south street), South Chicago Avenue (a northwest-southeast street) and 79th Street (an east-west street) intersect one another at this point. The flow of traffic was controlled by a stop-and-go traffic light.

Threatt was driving his automobile north on Stony Island Avenue going home from work. In his car were two other passengers, Smith (the other plaintiff) and Jackson Moore. As Threatt approached the intersection, he was following two other cars in the northbound lane of traffic. Four cars concerned in this case stopped at the intersection of 79th Street for a red traffic control signal and were waiting for the light to change to green. These cars were lined up in the following order from north to south: first, an unidentified vehicle; second, a military police car; third, the Threatt vehicle; and fourth, defendant's car driven by its employee, Fagot.

When the traffic light changed to green, all four cars started north across the intersection. The first car was not involved in the accident, and it is not clear whether it stopped while crossing the intersection. The second car did stop near the center of the intersection to allow a lady pedestrian to cross in front of it. The third and fourth cars in turn stopped behind the second car. Defendant's car was following the Threatt car at a distance of about ten feet. There were four full northbound lanes of traffic on Stony Island Avenue at the place where the cars in question were then proceeding.

Defendant's driver Fagot testified that:

"Well, as we started up and at approximately the center of the intersection I heard brakes squeal on my right and I looked over and as I looked back the other car in front of me was stopped, and I slammed on my brakes but it was too late."

Defendant's car struck the rear end of Threatt's car which in turn struck the rear end of the second car. The evidence is conflicting whether Threatt's car struck the car in front of it before or after the collision behind it. The rear end collisions occurred within a few seconds after the cars started across the intersection. A chain reaction, set in motion when the military car stopped to permit the pedestrian to cross, was followed by the resulting collisions in the matter of "a second" or "a split second."

The time of the occurrence was about 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon; the weather was clear and fair; and there were no obstructions in the line of travel.

Plaintiffs claim injuries resulting from the rear end collision when Threatt's car was struck from behind by defendant's car. Neither reported injuries at the scene of the accident. Smith lost no time from his employment but subsequently went to see a doctor with Threatt. There was evidence relating Threatt's subsequent disability to the accident in question.

There was testimony concerning the accident given by plaintiffs, the driver of defendant's car, a passenger in the military car and a police officer who investigated the accident and made an ...

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