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Bauer v. Johnson





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. William V. Patterson, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Glenn Johnson, was found not liable by a Cook County jury for injuries received by the plaintiff, Patricia Bauer, in an automobile collision. The jury answered a special interrogatory finding the plaintiff contributorially negligent. Plaintiff owned the car in which she was riding. It was driven by her 16-year-old son at the time of the collision. The trial court denied plaintiff's motion for a directed verdict on the issue of her contributory negligence and plaintiff's post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The appellate court reversed and remanded. (67 Ill. App.3d 146.) We affirm.

The facts are well stated in the appellate court opinion and can be summarized briefly here. Robert Bauer, the plaintiff's 16-year-old son, testified that he was a licensed driver of two months' standing. He said that on the day of the accident, March 24, 1971, he was driving south in a parking aisle at a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour from a post office in the Randhurst shopping center toward a "T" intersection located 200 feet south. The roadway at the intersection connected all of the parking aisles. No traffic-control devices were present. When he was approximately 100 feet from the intersection, he decelerated and looked to his left in preparation for making a left turn. At that time he saw the defendant's vehicle 500 feet away traveling westerly toward him. He thought a vehicle that far away traveling within the speed limit presented no risk to him. He said the posted speed limit was 25 miles per hour. Approximately 50 feet from the intersection, his mother shouted at him to stop the car. He said his car traveled another 20 feet as he began to brake, reasonably hard at first and then harder as he focused on the defendant's car and heard its tires squeal. He also tried to swerve to his right. His car came to a stop seven feet into the intersection and then was hit by defendant's vehicle.

Plaintiff testified that she was sitting in the passenger seat facing southeast, paying no particular attention to the way her son drove. When they were about 50 feet from the intersection, she noticed defendant's car traveling, she said, at a high rate of speed. She then yelled for her son to stop. Their car traveled between 12 and 15 feet, then quickly slowed and stopped in the intersection just before impact.

The defendant was called as an adverse witness pursuant to section 60 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 60) and testified that he looked in plaintiff's direction 1,000, 600, 500 and between 150 and 200 feet before he reached the intersection and saw nothing. When he was 30 feet from the intersection, he said that the plaintiff's vehicle was also 30 feet away. He said he was traveling 30 miles per hour and that plaintiff's car was going 20 to 25 miles per hour. He applied his brakes and skidded 20 feet prior to impact. He did not attempt to swerve his car. He said that plaintiff's vehicle was going 5 to 10 miles per hour at the moment of impact.

Each witness agreed that the collision took place at approximately 5:30 p.m., that the day was bright and clear and that there was nothing to obstruct the drivers' or passenger's view. Plaintiff's son testified that a police officer paced off nine steps as the length of the skid marks left by defendant's car. No marks were left by plaintiff's car.

According to the pictures in evidence and the testimony submitted, the collision took place completely on the private property of the shopping center. Apparently for this reason, neither plaintiff nor defendant has argued the applicability of the Illinois Rules of the Road (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-100 et seq., par. 11-901(a), 11-906) and we do not pursue this matter further.

Defendant argues that plaintiff breached her duty to control the driver and her duty to warn the driver of danger. No allegations of a master-servant, principal-agent or joint enterprise relationship were made. In Illinois the duty of an owner-passenger to control the driver was set forth by Palmer v. Miller (1942), 380 Ill. 256, 259. There this court held that an owner-passenger could be liable for the negligence of a driver if the passenger negligently failed to control the driver.

Palmer also was ahead of its time in abolishing the now discredited imputed-negligence doctrine. A brief explanation of this doctrine is helpful to an understanding of the issue involved in the Palmer case and in this appeal. The doctrine originally was designed to provide a financially responsible defendant to victims of the driver's negligence. (Prosser, Torts sec. 73 (4th ed. 1971).) It was soon applied, however, to bar plaintiffs from recovery due to their imputed contributory negligence. Prosser, Torts sec. 74 (4th ed. 1971).

The right of an owner to control the vehicle was the basis for the doctrine. And in the days of the horse and buggy, it was possible for an owner-passenger to exercise a degree of control over the driver. Traffic was light, the speed was slow and the reins could be taken from the driver with relative ease. Thus, passenger control over the physical details of driving was a realistic possibility. See the discussion in Kalechman v. Drew Auto Rental, Inc. (1973), 33 N.Y.2d 397, 403, 353 N.Y.S.2d 414, 418, 308 N.E.2d 886, 889, and the discussion of Wheatley v. Patrick (Eng. 1837), 2 M. & W. 650, in Harper & Kime, The Duty to Control the Conduct of Another, 43 Yale L.J. 886, 889 (1934).

Recent cases, however, have criticized the imputed-contributory-negligence doctrine and the theory on which it is premised. (See Weber v. Stokely-Van Camp, Inc. (1966), 274 Minn. 482, 144 N.W.2d 540.) These cases have recognized the danger of permitting a passenger to interfere with a driver while he or she was operating the vehicle. (See Weber v. Stokely-Van Camp, Inc. (1966), 274 Minn. 482, 491, 144 N.W.2d 540, 545.) Thus, in Kalechman v. Drew Auto Rental, Inc. (1973), 33 N.Y.2d 397, 402-03, 353 N.Y.S.2d 414, 418, 308 N.E.2d 886, 889, the New York Court of Appeals stated:

"With the advent of the modern automobile there is no longer any basis for assuming that the passenger, no matter what his relationship to the driver may be, has the capacity to assert control over or direct the operation of a moving automobile. The design of the vehicle, the high speeds at which it travels, the split second timing which is often necessary to avoid collision have all combined to erode the assumption that anyone other than the driver can effectively control the operation of the vehicle in traffic.

In fact, under modern driving conditions anyone who `allows another to drive would only increase the risk of accidents by interfering with the driver's control of the car or by diverting his attention' [citation].

* * * All this serves to illustrate the wisdom of Cardozo's celebrated observation that `Precedents drawn from the days of travel by stage coach do not fit the ...

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