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Taylor v. Checker Cab Co.

NOVEMBER 20, 1975.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. HARRY G. HERSHENSON, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Sheila Taylor, brought action against defendants Public Taxi Service, Inc. (Public), Checker Taxi Company, Inc. (Checker), and Napolean Smith for injuries sustained in a collision between a Public taxi in which she was a passenger and a Checker taxi driven by Smith. Following trial by jury, a verdict for $2,000 was returned in favor of plaintiff against all the defendants. Thereafter, judgments notwithstanding the verdict were entered for defendants Checker and Smith. Judgment was entered upon the verdict of $2,000 against Public.

Public appeals, contending that the trial court erred in directing a verdict for Checker and Smith and in refusing to direct a verdict in favor of Public. It further contends that the court erred in admitting hearsay testimony, in improperly excluding testimony as to bias of a witness, and in improperly restricting the cross-examination of one witness and the redirect examination of another. Plaintiff cross-appeals and also contends that the trial court erred in directing a verdict in favor of Checker and Smith. The facts follow.

The accident occurred at approximately 6 P.M. on November 13, 1969. At the time, there was intermittent rain and snow, and the streets were wet and slippery. The accident took place in the southbound lanes in the 500 block of North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, which consisted of three lanes of moving traffic and one lane of parking.

Plaintiff was the sole passenger in a Public taxi traveling south on Michigan Avenue in the westernmost lane of traffic. At the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Ohio Street, the driver, Henry Goss, stopped for a red traffic light at the head of his lane, abreast of the lead automobiles stopped in each of the two southbound lanes to his left. At the next intersection to the south, U-turns are permitted on Michigan Avenue. When the traffic light changed to green, Goss started forward, then observed a Checker taxi making a U-turn from northbound to southbound. As it completed the turn and entered the westernmost southbound lane Goss applied his brakes but his vehicle began to skid and struck the Checker taxi in the rear. Although no apparent damage resulted to either vehicle, plaintiff alleged that she was thrown to the floor of Goss's taxi and injured her back.

Plaintiff filed the instant suit against Checker and its driver, Napolean Smith, as well as defendant Public and its driver, Henry Goss. Before the start of trial, Goss was dismissed as a party-defendant on the motion of plaintiff.

At trial, plaintiff testified as to the occurrence and her injuries. She stated that she first observed the Checker taxi while it was making the U-turn, but she could not estimate the distance between the two vehicles at various points prior to the collision.

Napolean Smith testified that he was driving north on Michigan Avenue when he picked up a woman passenger who wanted to go south into the Loop area. He then drove north to a point on Michigan Avenue where U-turns are permitted; stopped, and observed that the southbound traffic was just beginning to move through the intersection at Ohio. He completed his U-turn and had moved about 50 feet south in the west lane of traffic when his taxi was struck in the rear by Goss's vehicle. He estimated his speed at the time of impact was 10 to 15 miles an hour. On cross-examination Smith could not recall whether he had to wait for any southbound traffic to clear before he began his U-turn. At the time, the southbound Michigan Avenue traffic moving through the Ohio Street intersection was approximately 50 yards away, proceeding at a normal speed of 15 to 20 miles per hour. After completing the U-turn, Smith had driven 40 to 45 feet south before his taxi was struck in the rear. He saw Goss's taxi in his rear-view mirror about 15 feet behind him before the impact.

The deposition of Nancy Breeden, passenger in the Checker taxi, was read into evidence by Checker. She stated that the oncoming southbound traffic on Michigan Avenue, including Goss's vehicle, was about three car lengths behind her taxi as it completed the U-turn; she estimated that after making the U-turn her taxi had proceeded south on Michigan Avenue about two car lengths before it was struck in the rear.

Charles Bellar, called by Checker as a witness, testified. He was employed by Checker as accident investigator and on March 17, 1970, obtained a signed statement in writing from Henry Goss concerning the accident. Thereupon, Public objected that Goss's statement could only be used for impeachment and was not admissible substantively. The trial court overruled the objection on the basis that the statement constituted an admission by an agent and was binding upon the principal, Public. Bellar was then allowed to refresh his memory with the statement and to testify as to Goss's statements therein. Bellar testified that Goss had stated he was approimately eight car lengths north of the Checker taxi when it began its U-turn; that upon seeing the Checker taxi he immediately applied his brakes but began to skid; and that the point of impact between the two vehicles was about 75 feet south of the U-turn location. Bellar further testified, on cross-examination, that he had been an investigator for Checker for 10 years and had been a taxi driver before that. Some 15 years ago he had driven a taxi for the Flash Taxicab Company. The trial court sustained Checker's objection to further inquiry into Bellar's employment background.

Public then renewed its objection to Bellar's testimony concerning the contents of Goss's written statement, and argued that the statement could not constitute an admission against it because at the time the statement was given Goss was no longer in Public's employ. The trial court again overruled the objection.

Henry Goss was called by Public to testify on direct examination. As he drove through the Ohio Street intersection the vehicles in the two southbound lanes to his left had accelerated and as a result were a few feet in front of him. He was about half way between Ohio Street and the next intersection to the south when he first noticed the Checker taxi making a U-turn in front of him. He immediately braked, but his taxi began to slide and slid an estimated 10 to 20 feet before it made a very slight contact with the rear of the Checker taxi. Goss further testified on cross-examination. When he first observed the Checker taxi it was facing west and was making a U-turn. He braked immediately. The distance between the two vehicles at that point was estimated to be 30 to 40 feet. As he applied his brakes the Checker taxi completed the U-turn and entered the west lane of southbound traffic. When he first saw the Checker turning, his own vehicle was still north of the U-turn location. In an effort to refresh his recollection, Goss was then shown his signed written statement that he had given to Charles Bellar. He testified that the statement did refresh his memory somewhat, but contained a few mistakes. On redirect examination Goss stated that he was in the employ of Checker at the time he gave the written statement to its investigator. Counsel for Public then attempted to question Goss as to the circumstances under which he had come to give the statement. The court sustained Checker's objection that such inquiry was outside the scope of the cross-examination.

Public then called Betty Swanson to testify. She was a claims secretary for Public, and had with her the personnel file of Charles Bellar, a former taxi driver for Public. Checker objected that the witness could only testify concerning matters within her own personal knowledge; that the contents of Bellar's personnel file were not impeaching in character; and that Bellar's testimony had been consistent with that given by the other witnesses. The court sustained the objection and refused to permit Swanson to continue her testimony. Public then made an offer of proof that if allowed to testify Swanson would state that Charles Bellar had been fired as a driver for Public for having an excessive number of accidents, and that he had forfeited a $100 bond as a result of damage caused in those accidents to equipment owned by Public.

The jury returned a verdict against all the defendants. Each of the defendants subsequently moved for the entry of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The trial court granted the motions of defendants Checker and Smith, but denied the motion of defendant Public. ...

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