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Svetanoff v. Kramer





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ALLEN A. FREEMAN, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied February 1, 1980.

In a trial arising out of an automobile accident between three cars, the jury returned a general verdict for Katherine Kramer and a special verdict finding that she was without contributory negligence. Although the general verdict was in her favor, the jury refused to award her any damages on her counterclaim. The inconsistent verdicts are so indicative of a compromise on liability that a new trial must be held. In addition, to avoid any errors in instructions on remand, it is necessary to consider in this opinion the rights-of-way of the various vehicles involved in the collision.


The date of the accident was the afternoon of May 21, 1973; the place, at the intersection of 31st Street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago. At this intersection, 31st Street is two-way, with two lanes running in each direction. Michigan Avenue narrows to the south of 31st Street. North of the intersection there are five lanes running south and two lanes running north; but south of the intersection Michigan Avenue becomes a one-way street, with all five lanes headed south. Traffic lights govern the flow of traffic at the intersection.

Michael Svetanoff was driving south on Michigan Avenue in a car owned by Maryann Pitula (later to become Mrs. Svetanoff). Maryann and two other women were passengers in the car. At the same time, Katherine Kramer and Iola Stecker, both nuns, were headed west on 31st Street. In the rush-hour traffic, the Kramer car had fallen behind an Impala. When the Impala entered the intersection, it stopped in order to make a left turn and head south on Michigan. The record is not clear whether the Impala signaled its intention to make a left turn.

Kramer, who had entered the 31st-Michigan intersection on the green light, came to a stop behind the Impala. Her car was in the innermost westbound lane of 31st Street, and it and the Impala in front blocked three of the five southbound lanes on Michigan. The Impala was able to make its left turn and clear the intersection only when the 31st Street light it was facing turned red; it did so and left the Kramer car alone in the middle of the intersection.

Traffic on Michigan remained partially blocked. Kramer faced a red light, and while the traffic on Michigan faced a green light, it also faced Kramer's car. Of the westernmost lanes of Michigan, only the curb lane was clear. In the next lane to the east three or four cars were lined up, unable to move forward because of Kramer's car. One auto in the curb lane got around Kramer by passing in front of her car. The driver of the next car, a Volkswagen, which Kramer testified was in the curb lane and Stecker testified was either in the curb lane or the lane next to it on the east, saw Kramer's predicament, stopped and waved her through the intersection in front of him. She accelerated to 5 to 10 miles per hour and started to move west through the intersection against the red light. Kramer then in her rear-view mirror saw the Volkswagen pass behind her.

At that moment, Michael Svetanoff entered the intersection, moving south in the curb lane of Michigan. He had slowed as he approached the intersection because he was facing a red light. Before he reached 31st Street, however, the light turned green and he accelerated again. The line of cars backed up to the north of Kramer was to his left. It obscured his view of the intersection. He first saw Kramer's car when it passed in front of him as he entered the intersection. Svetanoff was unable to stop, and he ran into the right rear of Kramer's car.

Meanwhile, Joseph Colella had been eastbound on 31st Street. When he approached the intersection, the Impala turning south blocked his way, so he stopped at the light to wait for the car in front of him to move out of the way. As he waited, the light he was facing turned red, so Colella stayed where he was. His car was positioned behind the crosswalk lines. Kramer approached him in the lane to Colella's immediate left; when she was hit by Svetanoff, the force of the collision drove her car around and into Colella's car.

Undisputed evidence at trial showed that Kramer suffered damages of $1,069.37 for medical expenses and repairs to her automobile. Similar evidence showed that damages to Colella's car totaled $1,026.51. A stipulation set the damages to the Svetanoff car at $1,871. The jury was given a special interrogatory inquiring into Kramer's contributory negligence. The following verdicts were returned:

— Kramer prevailed over Maryann Svetanoff on Svetanoff's claim for damages to her car and for her personal injuries.

— Kramer prevailed over Joseph Colella on his claim for damages to his car.

— Kramer prevailed over Michael Svetanoff on her counterclaim for damages to her car and her medical expenses, but the ...

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