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Meharry v. Midwestern Gas Transmission





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. RITA B. GARMAN, Judge, presiding.


Arbitration is intended to be a swift and speedy method to resolve disputes.

But this case involved two arbitrations, two trips to the circuit court, and took 8 years and 7 months from the date of injury to the final judgment below! Although the wheels of justice admittedly grind exceedingly fine, this inexorable delay is a sad commentary.

However — we affirm.

On October 20, 1977, plaintiff filed a complaint seeking damages for lost crops based on a right-of-way agreement entered into on May 21, 1959. The defendant (Company) moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging that its liability under the right-of-way agreement was restricted to crop damage and did not include damage to machinery, and that the dispute over damage to crops was subject to arbitration. Plaintiff filed objections to this motion to dismiss and, eventually, an application for stay of court action and for an order compelling arbitration. After some delay, the court proceedings were stayed and an order compelling arbitration was granted.

An arbitration hearing was finally held on July 16, 1980. At that hearing, evidence was presented that, subsequent to the Company's installation of a gas pipeline across the plaintiff's land, rocks began to appear on the surface of the land over the pipeline, although there had been no such problem with rocks prior to installation. The Company did not dispute this evidence.

Evidence presented at the hearing further showed that on October 20, 1972, at about dusk, while operating in a field of beans over the Company's pipeline, the plaintiff's combine was damaged by a rock. At the time of this mishap, there were approximately 20 acres of beans left to be combined. Testimony indicated that four of the 8 to 12 hours it would have taken to finish the harvest could have been completed that evening.

A mechanic was called to repair the combine, but the necessary parts were not available locally and the combine was not restored to working order for three days. The plaintiff attempted to locate a substitute combine but was unsuccessful. Due to wet conditions, the plaintiff was unable to harvest the remaining 20 acres of beans until January 1973. The yield in January was half of what it would have been in October.

The Company presented evidence of rainfall in Sidell, Illinois — a town about 12 to 14 miles from the Meharry farm: .03 inch on October 21, 1972; .38 inch on October 22; and .68 inch on October 23. The Company's witness admitted that the rainfall on the Meharry farm could have been different from that in Sidell, and that the rain on October 22 and 23 might have been sufficient to keep the plaintiff out of the field for a couple of days.

The arbitrators found liability on the part of the Company and awarded the plaintiff $4,879.27. This figure represented $3,470 for lost crops, $124.84 for repairing the combine, and 6% interest on the award from the date of the injury. The $3,470 award for lost crops was arrived at by multiplying 440 bushels by $8.50 per bushel. These figures represent, respectively, the amount of the decrease in plaintiff's yield and the average price of beans from January 1973 to June 1973.

The Company filed a motion to vacate and set aside the award, stating as the ground therefor that the arbitrators' finding of liability was erroneously based on an inadmissible offer of settlement. The Company also objected to the method used to compute the value of lost crops and to the award of prejudgment interest. No objection was made to the award of damages for the combine.

The court found that the arbitrators had made a "gross mistake of fact" in premising the Company's liability on its offer of settlement. The court also found that the arbitrators had exceeded their authority in awarding prejudgment interest. The court remanded the case to the arbitrators without further disturbing the award. The arbitrators were to state facts to support any further award they might make.

The arbitrators again found for the plaintiff. The damage award was the same, less prejudgment interest. The trial court confirmed this award over the Company's objection that the arbitrators had not stated facts to support their conclusion and that the "form and substance of the revised award showed that the arbitrators merely repeated the ...

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