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Carlson v. Dorsey Trailers

OPINION FILED JULY 7, 1977.

CARL A. CARLSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

DORSEY TRAILERS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JACQUES F. HEILINGOETTER, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE JOHNSON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The plaintiff, Carl A. Carlson, brought this action in the circuit court of Cook County, Illinois, seeking to be compensated for injuries he sustained as a result of defendants' alleged negligence in a highway collision. At the conclusion of all the evidence, the court directed a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on the issue of liability. The jury returned a verdict of $600,000 in damages and judgment was entered accordingly. Defendants appeal from the judgment entered.

The issues presented for review are (1) whether the trial court acted appropriately in directing a verdict in plaintiff's favor on the issue of liability; and (2) whether the verdict of $600,000 in damages for plaintiff's injuries is excessive.

The record reveals that the accident happened at approximately 8:20 a.m., on January 22, 1973, on Highway 125, west of Springfield, Illinois. The collision occurred at the Farmingdale Road "T" intersection between two tractor-trailers, one driven by the plaintiff, the other by defendants' driver, Truman Norris. The complaint alleged that the defendants, through their agent and driver, were negligent in the operation of their vehicle and proximately caused severe injuries to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff testified that he was an experienced tractor-trailer truck driver and employed in that capacity by Dry Ice, Inc. On the morning of the accident, he was driving a "1972 Ford cab-over" trailer truck. He had awakened at 7 a.m. in order to make a delivery in Beardstown, Illinois. Plaintiff then traveled Route 125 on his way to Springfield for his next delivery. He had driven Route 125 before and was familiar with the highway. Around the area of the accident, Route 125 was a two-lane road, straight highway, with two yellow lines in the center and white lines on each side of the road. The highway runs east-west, and is intersected by Farmingdale Road, which runs to the south. He stated, "There is no road going off to the north. There is no buildings. It's fairly well open." According to the plaintiff, there is a quarter of a mile of highway straightaway that continues in both directions from Farmingdale Road. Beyond the straightaway section, east of the intersection, there is a hill, or crest, in the highway. There is a stop sign at the intersection controlling Farmingdale Road traffic.

Plaintiff testified that he was proceeding eastward that morning with all of his headlights, running lights, fog lights and trailer lights on. His cab radio was turned off and his seat belts were fastened. It had been raining earlier and the highway was wet, but it was not raining at the time of the accident. Visibility was good. Plaintiff was driving at approximately 50 miles per hour. There were no vehicles immediately ahead of him in the eastbound lane, and nothing obscured his vision. As he came into the straightaway nearing the Farmingdale Road intersection, he became aware of westbound traffic. He observed an automobile, driven by John Fleischacker, coming westbound, followed by the truck leased by defendant, Dorsey Trailers, Inc. The Fleischacker car signaled for a left turn approximately "200 yards, or 200 feet" from the intersection; the Dorsey truck still followed at a reasonable distance behind the car. At that time, the plaintiff also noticed a school bus coming down Farmingdale Road. The bus reached the "T" intersection, stopped, and signaled a left turn. The car then began to reduce its speed, came to a stop in the westbound lane on the east side of the intersection, and prepared to make a left turn onto Farmingdale Road. Plaintiff saw the Dorsey truck "closing in" on the stopped car. He explained that he had reduced his speed when he had observed Fleischacker signal a left turn, because "sometimes they will turn in front of you." Plaintiff testified that he was in his own eastbound lane watching the car and oncoming truck, and that at no time did he leave his lane. He had reached the intersection when he observed that the Dorsey truck was immediately behind the car. The truck then "came out" from behind the car and passed. Since he believed that the Dorsey driver was attempting to gain more space in which to stop, plaintiff pulled his truck as far to the right of the eastbound lane as he was able to. He stated that he did not turn off Route 125 onto Farmingdale Road to avoid the accident because he could not have done so without hitting the school bus. The plaintiff proceeded through the intersection, the right side of his truck passing 4 feet in front of the school bus. The collision took place on the side of the intersection east of Farmingdale Road. Plaintiff testified that when he reached that side of the intersection, the Dorsey truck was in the eastbound lane and continued towards him until the left front corner of the Dorsey truck collided with the left front corner and side of plaintiff's truck.

Plaintiff testified that both he and Norris were later taken to St. John's Hospital in an ambulance. He stated, "I asked him if he didn't see me and he said no. He was playing with his radio."

Paul Orr, a State Police Trooper, testified that he works in the Springfield area and that he was called to the scene of the accident at approximately 8:22 that morning. He stated that the highway was wet, but visibility was clear and it was not raining. However, the trooper stated that when he questioned Mr. Norris, Norris told him that he "* * * didn't see either of the vehicles. He didn't notice that they were going to do what they done." Trooper Orr's description of the accident scene substantially corroborates plaintiff's description. Orr stated that there was a low spot in a section of the highway near Farmingdale Road. According to Orr, a car in that low spot would be visible to the driver of a vehicle coming from the east towards Farmingdale Road, although it might not be visible to the driver of an eastbound vehicle.

Charles Ziemer, a resident of Bloomington, Illinois, and a school psychologist, testified that on the morning of the accident he was traveling west on Route 125. He was driving a Buick automobile and came up behind the Dorsey truck 4 or 5 miles from the intersection. Ziemer stated that from the top of the crest in the highway he could see straight down the road and noticed oncoming traffic in the eastbound lane. While following the Dorsey truck from the crest down toward the intersection, he did not see the truck reduce its speed. He never saw the truck's brake lights go on. He did see the truck accelerate slightly and move across the center line into the eastbound lane. The next thing he observed was flying debris.

John Fleischacker testified that visibility was fine that morning as he was driving west toward Farmingdale Road. He put his left turn signal on 200 feet from the intersection. At this time, the Dorsey truck was approximately 2 blocks behind him. As he waited to make his turn, Fleischacker looked back and observed that the truck was now only 50 feet behind him. He did not believe that the truck was going to stop because its speed was too great. The truck then appeared to cross the yellow line and move into the eastbound lane. Fleischacker was hit by the Dorsey truck and knocked 25 feet from the highway. He then heard an explosion and realized that the two trucks had collided. According to Flesichacker, Norris admitted that he had not seen the stopped automobile because he was playing with his radio.

Harold Barfield related that he was driving a yellow school bus north along Farmingdale Road. He reached Route 125 and was within 10 feet of the highway when he witnessed the accident. He testified that the Fleischacker car had stopped and was waiting to make a left turn. The westbound Dorsey truck then pulled out into the eastbound lane to go around the turning automobile. The cab of the truck started across the eastbound lane in the direction of the school bus. Barfield attempted to shift the bus into reverse but did not have sufficient time to do so. The plaintiff's truck then passed in front of him and the two trucks collided.

Truman Norris testified that on the morning of the accident he was driving a tractor-trailer owned by defendant Wilco Leasing Company; he was an employee of defendant Dorsey Trailer Company. He was driving a 1973 Ford cab-over trailer truck. The vehicle had a radio located on the right side of the gear shift. He stated that in the cab he was sitting at least 6 feet above the road, much higher than an automobile. He had never driven Route 125 prior to the day of the accident, and was not aware that there was an intersection at Farmingdale Road.

Norris stated that the weather was wet and misty. He did not remember the exact character of the highway at the accident scene; whether it was a straightaway or a no-passing zone. He was traveling approximately 40 or 45 miles per hour and could not remember any traffic traveling ahead of him in the westbound lane. He did remember being followed along the highway by a Buick automobile. Norris stated that he was driving and looking ahead, but did not see the Fleischacker car in front of him. He reached over to turn on his radio. Norris could not remember whether or not he had taken his eyes from the road while adjusting the radio. He then looked up and noticed the Fleischacker car for the first time. He did not notice the school bus or plaintiff's oncoming truck in the eastbound lane. Norris hit his airbrakes. He did not remember hitting the car, but only that his trailer "jackknifed" to the left into the eastbound lane of traffic. He could not remember any impact with plaintiff's truck because he had blacked out. Norris next recalled awakening on the pavement of the road. He did not remember talking to any person other than Trooper Orr about the accident. He did not recall what he had told Trooper Orr.

The defendants argue on appeal that the trial court erred in directing a verdict in plaintiff's favor on the issue of liability; that it erroneously applied the standard for directed verdicts established by our supreme court in Pedrick v. Peoria & ...


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