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Heiser v. Chastain

JULY 21, 1972.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. JOHN C. LAYNG, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, United Cab and Drivurself, Inc., appeals from a jury verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $13,500 for injuries incurred when a cab owned by defendant, in which plaintiff was a passenger, struck the car in front of it. Defendant Donald Chastain, the driver of the cab, was dismissed upon plaintiff's motion at the close of the evidence.

The accident took place on August 21, 1969, on School Street near its intersection with Central Avenue in Rockford, Illinois. Donald Chastain testified that he was traveling about twenty miles per hour when he attempted to stop the taxi as it approached a Cadillac stopped at the intersection. He stated that he applied the brakes but they did not hold, and that he then pumped them several times. He attempted to swerve around the Cadillac, but pulled back when he saw another car coming, and the cab hit the rear bumper of the Cadillac. He said that the cab had slowed to about fifteen miles per hour at the time of impact, and that the brakes might have caught just before the impact, but he wasn't sure. He further stated that the accident would not have occurred if the brakes had worked, and that he had experienced no difficulty with the brakes prior to this incident.

Jack Rhinehart, a Rockford police officer who was called to the scene, stated that he tested the brakes after the accident and that they went all the way to the floor without grabbing, but that when he pumped them several times there would be brakes. He found skid marks of approximately ten feet behind the rear wheels of the cab. He stated that School Street at the scene of the accident was a level road with an asphalt surface, and that it was dry at the time.

Plaintiff, who was seated in the right rear seat of the cab, suffered a fracture of the upper part of her right arm as a result of the accident. The fracture failed to heal properly after hospitalization and treatment, and an open reduction with a screw fixture was performed on March 26, 1970. The plaintiff incurred medical bills and caretaking expenses between $2,500 and $2,700.

Defendant makes no contention that the verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence, but argues that trial errors require reversal.

The first relates to the instruction to the jury, given over objection:

"There was in force in the State of Illinois at the time of the occurrence in question a certain statute which provided that:

(a) Brake equipment required.

1. Every motor vehicle, other than a motor driven cycle when operated upon a highway shall be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and hold such vehicle, including 2 separate means of applying the brake, each of which means shall be effective to apply the brakes to at least one wheel on a motorcycle and at least 2 wheels on all other first division and second division vehicles. If these 2 separate means of applying the brakes are connected in any way, they shall be so constructed that failure of any one part of the operating mechanism shall not leave the motor vehicle without brakes.

(b) Performance ability of brakes.

1. The service brakes upon any motor vehicle or combination of vehicles operating on a level surface shall be adequate to stop such vehicle or vehicles when traveling 20 miles per hour within a distance of 30 feet when upon dry asphalt or concrete pavement surface free from loose material.

If you decide that a party violated the statute on the occasion in question, then you may consider that fact together with all the other facts and circumstances in evidence in determining whether or not that party was negligent before and at the time of the occurrence."

• 1-3 Defendant contends that this instruction was improper because there was no evidence to support it and because it was inapplicable to the issues of the case. We do not agree. There was evidence that this accident was caused by a failure of the cab's brakes, and would not have happened but for such failure. The jury could properly conclude that the statute had been violated. (See Savage v. Blancett (1964), 47 Ill. App.2d 355, 362-364.) The instruction properly indicated that a violation of the statute did not constitute negligence per se, but was one fact to be considered in determining whether the defendant was negligent. (Suvada v. White Motor Co. (1964), 51 Ill. App.2d 318, 333, aff'd, 32 Ill.2d 612 (1965).) It was not unfair to give the instruction. Had defendant proposed a defensive instruction on the theory that any defect in the brakes was unknown to the defendant, that in the exercise of ordinary care defendant could not ...

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