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Law v. Central Ill. Public Service Co.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Macon County; the Hon. JOHN L. DAVIS, Judge, presiding.


Decedent was electrocuted.

Contributory negligence?

The jury said yes.

We affirm.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of all defendants in this wrongful death action and also found, by special interrogatories, that the plaintiff's decedent was both contributorily negligent and a volunteer.

The fatal sequence of events began when defendant Weber entered into a contract to raze a water tower located to the west of Washington School in Pana. Approximately a week and a half prior to Law's death, Weber took his boom truck to the schoolyard. On the day of Law's death, Weber stopped work about noon. When he left, the boom was up in the air and the truck was parked on a hill.

That evening, the boom truck rolled down the hill and came to rest blocking the street across from decedent's parents' home. The truck's boom was in contact with some wires. Dean Law called the Pana police department. Defendant Michael Harris, the officer on duty, and defendant Jerry Blackwell, a tow truck owner and operator, responded. Harris and Blackwell were unsure as to whether the wires touching the boom were telephone or electrical. Harris requested defendant Central Illinois Public Service Company (CIPS) to send a man to the scene. Shortly thereafter, Charles Stewart, a CIPS employee, arrived and told them the wires did not belong to CIPS but were telephone lines. Stewart left shortly thereafter.

Law suggested that the boom truck be taken far enough up the hill so that it would not coast back down again. No one objected to this idea. Officer Harris testified that Blackwell then stated his need for someone to steer the truck. According to Harris, this request was not directed to him. Dean Law was closest to the boom truck and got in. Harris denied telling Law to steer so that he would be free to direct traffic. Law's parents testified that they overheard their son ask Officer Harris whether there was anything he could do to help. Harris responded by asking Dean to steer the boom truck so that Harris could watch for traffic.

Blackwell, driving the wrecker, began to tow the boom truck up the hill. The truck was being pulled backward with Dean Law steering it. Suddenly, there was a bright flash, and lights went out in the neighborhood. The boom had broken one of the electrical wires that ran across the schoolyard and was in contact with another wire.

At this time Harris told Blackwell and Law to stay in their trucks. He ran to his car and called the radio dispatcher, asking her to get the CIPS man, Stewart, to return. Unfortunately, the line was busy.

Suddenly, the back wheels on the tow truck exploded and began to burn. Flames were shooting 8 to 10 feet in the air. Harris ordered the men to remain in their trucks. Blackwell, however, jumped out of the wrecker and landed safely.

Harris continued to communicate with Dean Law. Harris testified that the decedent told him, "It's going to blow, I've got to get out." Law told Harris several times that he was getting out because he was afraid that the gas tank on the tow truck would blow up. Law got onto the running board of the truck. When he stuck his foot out a short distance from the ground, electricity arced between the ground and his foot. He appeared to be frozen to the truck. Dean Law was electrocuted.

Plaintiff raises numerous issues on appeal. Plaintiff claims that reversible error occurred when the trial court excluded depositions of defendant Harris and Stewart. Plaintiff also claims that the trial court erred in instructing the jury, and during the cross-examination of Dorene Law, decedent's mother. Finally, plaintiff contends that the trial court's rulings during the economist's testimony and that of witness Mary Gooden constituted reversible error and that its rulings on evidentiary matters in general were prejudicial to the plaintiff.

The scope of our review is a decidedly narrow one. As noted above, the jury, via special interrogatory, found the decedent guilty of contributory negligence. The plaintiff has not claimed, either in her post-trial motion or here on appeal, that the response to the contributory negligence special interrogatory was against the manifest weight of the evidence. As such, we are conclusively bound to find that the special findings were supported by the evidence. (See Quagliano v. Johnson (1968), 100 Ill. App.2d 444, 241 N.E.2d 187; Fopay v. Noveroske (1975), 31 Ill. App.3d 182, 334 N.E.2d 79.) We are, however, permitted to consider the trial errors. O'Brien v. Walker (1977), 49 Ill. App.3d 940, 364 N.E.2d 533; Lewis v. W.F. Smith & Co. (1979), 71 Ill. App.3d 1032, 390 N.E.2d 39.

We find that no reversible error has occurred in relation to the contributory negligence finding. Since contributory negligence is a complete defense in an action premised on defendant's negligence, we only address ...

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