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Graves v. Wornson





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Whiteside County; the Hon. JOHN L. POOLE, Judge, presiding.


This is an appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of Whiteside County, Illinois, entered after a jury trial. The jury had rendered a verdict of not guilty in favor of both defendants and against both plaintiffs.

Suit had been filed against the defendants, David L. Wornson, a semi-trailer truck driver, and J.I. Case Company, his employer, by Nancy Jo Graves for her personal injuries and by First National Bank of Sterling, as administrator of the estate of Donna J. DeGraffenreid, deceased, for her wrongful death.

On the morning of December 21, 1974, Graves was operating a motor vehicle on Illinois Route 2, two miles west of its intersection with Illinois Route 78. It was snowing. Earlier that day Graves, her sister, Donna DeGraffenreid, and Lucille Pennington had driven to Morrison, Illinois. They rode in Graves' 1967 Oldsmobile. DeGraffenreid was riding in the back seat. Graves was driving and Lucille Pennington was riding in the front passenger seat. After completing their business in Morrison the women intended to go to Erie, Illinois, to visit Graves' children. They drove south from Morrison on Route 78 until they came to its intersection with Route 2 at "Hamilton's Corner" and then went west on Route 2.

Somewhere between Morrison and that intersection they met a State snowplow driven by William Norman. The snowplow driver was making his second pass at removing snow on this route, which was from Morrison to Erie and back again. The Graves vehicle followed the snowplow from the time they met between Morrison and the intersection of Routes 2 and 78 to the place of the collision which was to occur. Graves never attempted to pass the snowplow.

Approximately two miles west of the intersection of Route 2 and Route 78 the collision occurred. There was visibility of at least half a mile. The condition of the road was described by the driver of the snowplow as good wheel tracks with snow in between the wheel tracks. There was also testimony that the roads were wet and a little slippery, but that the witnesses were able to control their vehicles.

The west-bound traffic proceeded westerly on Route 2. The first vehicle driving in the west-bound lane was the snowplow followed by the Graves vehicle. Shortly prior to the accident a gray semi-trailer truck, also west bound, was following the Graves vehicle. Next was a vehicle driven by the defense witness, Boyce Curfman. In the Curfman car were his sister, Mavon Curfman, and Vickie Gibson, also defense witnesses. Vickie Gibson was in the back seat and Mavon Curfman was in the passenger seat in the front. As this west-bound traffic approached the intersection of Route 2 with Benton Road from the east, a blue-and-white east-bound automobile was approaching that intersection from the west followed by the defendant Wornson's semi-trailer truck, also east bound. The Wornson truck was an International cab with dual axles on a tractor and trailer. It was in good working condition. Wornson was following the east-bound blue-and-white car at the speed of approximately 35 to 40 miles per hour maintaining an interval of approximately 75 feet.

As the west-bound traffic was approaching Benton Road the west-bound gray semi-trailer truck following the Graves car pulled out to pass both the Graves vehicle and the snowplow. The gray truck overcame both vehicles and pulled back in front of the snowplow before reaching the intersection with Benton Road. Gibson and Mavon Curfman testified that they thought there was insufficient space for the gray truck to pass safely. The east-bound blue-and-white car apparently slowed and the Wornson truck slowed behind it allowing the gray truck back in its proper lane. After the gray truck returned to the west-bound lane, the blue-and-white car continued in the east-bound lane, met and passed in succession the gray truck, the snowplow, the Graves vehicle, and the Curfman vehicle, and the defendant Wornson followed in his semi-trailer truck.

It appears that both the blue-and-white vehicle and the Wornson truck slowed, although testimony is conflicting on that point. Wornson testified that the blue-and-white car slowed and that when he was abreast of the snowplow he believed that the blue and white car applied its brakes and was apparently stopping. Wornson also testified that when he saw the gray truck start to pass he started to slow by shifting gears. He thought he went from seventh or eighth to fourth gear. He did not swerve to the right to avoid the gray truck. He did not apply his brakes until he saw the brake lights on the blue-and-white car ahead of him which was after the gray truck was back in its own lane and was at a time when Wornson was approximately abreast of the snowplow. He said he saw a sudden cloud of snow and simultaneously saw the lighted brake lights on the blue-and-white car ahead of him.

The snowplow driver testified that no snow was being thrown over on the south side of the blade toward the center of the highway and no other witnesses testified to any snow cloud or snow being thrown.

After the Wornson truck had passed the snowplow the snowplow driver saw the truck cross into the west-bound lane in his rearview mirror. When Wornson applied his brakes the truck went into a slow skid, turning clockwise to the left. Wornson's truck hit the Graves vehicle in the left front side propelling it into a farmyard north of the highway. Wornson testified that the Graves vehicle was in its proper west-bound lane at all times he observed it until the time of impact. Graves and Pennington testified that the vehicle was in the proper west-bound lane at all times prior to the collision. The blue-and-white car at no time left its east-bound lane of traffic and did not lose control. Wornson was thrown from the cab of the truck by the collision. He skidded for a hundred feet on his back on the highway alongside the truck which continued in the west-bound lane after the collision and struck the Curfman car. Wornson's truck ultimately stopped across the west-bound lane of traffic. The Curfman car came to rest on Benton Road just north of its intersection with Route 2.

Immediately prior to the impact the decedent, Donna DeGraffenreid, was in reasonably good health and condition and immediately following the accident was dead of a broken neck. Graves sustained serious personal injuries in the collision.

Following the close of the cases by both the plaintiffs and the defendants, the plaintiffs moved for a directed verdict in their favor on the issue of liability. The court reserved its decision on these motions.

In a conference on instructions, objection was made by plaintiffs to defendants' instruction 22 pertaining to supervening causes in the context of Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 15.01 (2d ed. 1971) to which error is asserted herein. The jury returned a verdict for the defendants against both plaintiffs. The trial judge thereafter denied plaintiffs' motion for directed verdict ruling on those motions he had previously reserved. He denied each plaintiff's motion for judgment notwithstanding the ...

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