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Mueller v. Yellow Cab Co.

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 12, 1982.

JOAN MUELLER, PLAINTIFF AND COUNTERDEFENDANT-APPELLEE,

v.

YELLOW CAB COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND COUNTERPLAINTIFF-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James Sherrick, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE ROMITI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant appeals from an adverse jury verdict and judgment in a suit for personal injuries and property damage. Defendant contends:

(1) the trial court erred in refusing to allow defendant to impeach its own witness when the witness, to defendant's surprise, testified contrary to a previous written statement;

(2) the trial court erred in refusing to allow expert testimony from an employee of the city of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation as to timing, sequence and location of certain traffic signals;

(3) the trial court erred in instructing the jury as to future pain and suffering where injuries, if any, were purely subjective in character and the only evidence as to future pain and suffering was plaintiff's testimony that at the time of trial, five years after the occurrence, she still suffered some headaches; and

(4) the trial court erred in directing a verdict as to the amount of property damage where the only evidence was an estimate of repairs and the sole witness on this issue, plaintiff's husband, had no personal knowledge as to the extent of damage.

We agree with defendant that the trial court committed reversible error in refusing to permit it to impeach its witness. We also agree that the court should have allowed the expert testimony. Finally, we agree that the trial court erred in directing a verdict as to the amount of property damage.

The accident occurred when defendant's taxicab ran into plaintiff's automobile at an intersection. Both sides contended the other went through a red light. There were four witnesses on this issue: the plaintiff; Roy Pomeraning, an acquaintance of plaintiff who was in a milk truck standing at the intersection; the taxicab driver, James Flores; and Ronald Marshall, the passenger in the taxicab.

Plaintiff testified that the accident occurred at the intersection of the exit ramp from the Kennedy Expressway and Montrose Avenue at 8:45 a.m. while she was driving to work. Plaintiff left the expressway at the Montrose exit, intending to turn from the exit ramp onto westbound Montrose Avenue. The intersection is controlled by a traffic light. Plaintiff could see the traffic light immediately upon her exit from the expressway onto the ramp. As she drove up the exit ramp, the light was green. She reduced her speed from 55 m.p.h. to about 15 or 20 m.p.h. There were no vehicles in front of her. As she entered the intersection the traffic light was still green. She passed a milk truck sitting in the south lane on Montrose facing east. As the front of her vehicle was passing the milk truck, she saw a taxicab approximately 10 to 15 feet from her moving east on Montrose in the second lane from the south curb. The cab struck the left side of her car. According to plaintiff, the cabdriver stated he did not see the traffic light.

Roy Pomeraning was the driver of a milk truck. He and the plaintiff had known each other on a first-name basis for four or five years. He testified that at the time of the accident he was in the far right lane on Montrose waiting for the light to change. He had been stopped there for about one minute. When plaintiff crossed in front of him, his light was still red. The witness did not see defendant's taxi but he heard it strike plaintiff's car.

James Flores, the taxicab driver, testified that before the accident he had been driving east along Montrose for several blocks. He first saw the traffic lights about half a block away. The lights were in view when one was under the viaduct, which was west of the intersection, and when one was east of the viaduct. When he first saw the lights they were red. He was traveling about 25 m.p.h., but he decreased his speed as he continued east. When he was four or five car lengths west of the intersection, the light changed to green. He continued into the intersection and the accident occurred. Flores denied he ever stated to plaintiff that he ran the red light.

Defendant also called Ronald Marshall, the passenger in the cab, as a witness. Contrary to a previously given written statement, Marshall testified that he did not see the light. Defendant's attempts to examine him as to the previously given statement were objected to and the objection was sustained on the ground defendant was attempting to impeach its own witness. Defendant's request for a sidebar was denied.

On cross-examination, Marshall testified that he did not know what color the traffic light was because he had been talking with the cabdriver at the time of the accident. He said that at the time of the accident the driver had his head turned towards the rear seat.

After this witness' testimony the court recessed for lunch. Immediately after lunch, defendant moved for a mistrial because it had not been allowed to impeach Marshall with his prior signed statement. In that statement, he had said, "When we approached the Kennedy exit ramp the light was green for the cab and as the driver proceed [sic] a car driven by Joan Mueller who was northwest bound off [the] exit ramp ran the red light directly in front of the taxicab. My driver could do nothing but hit her in her left ...


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