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Dodson v. Shaw





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Fayette County; the Hon. W.R. Todd, Judge, presiding.


Richard L. Dodson, plaintiff, brought this action against Shaw Contractors and Builders, defendant, alleging negligence and violations of the road construction injuries act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 121, par. 314.1 et seq.). Judgment was entered on a jury verdict in favor of defendant in the circuit court of Fayette County, and plaintiff appeals.

In May of 1973, the State of Illinois requested bids for the proposed improvement of Camp Creek bridge located on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 east of Vandalia, Illinois. Defendant's bid was accepted and a construction contract was signed by the parties. The contract included standard State specifications for bridge construction and mandatory Federal provisions.

Construction began on the southernmost of the two lanes of the bridge in January of 1974. During the construction, traffic was directed to the north lane of the eastbound lanes by use of temporary traffic control devices. Pursuant to the contract, defendant painted a solid white traffic control line in the south lane. The lane was 880 feet long, beginning at the south edge of the south lane and angling towards the center line. The traffic control line merged with the center line at a point approximately 100 feet west of the bridge. Barricades were also placed at an angle in the south lane, and a temporary guardrail was placed on the center line of the bridge. The State, through the resident engineer for the job, approved defendant's temporary traffic control measures.

Before construction on the south lane was completed, an Arkansas Best Freight (ABF) tractor-trailer collided with the northeast bridge approach guardrail when traveling through the north lane. The guardrail was 100 feet long and was designed to protect errant vehicles from striking the concrete bridge abutment. The collision tore out a large segment of the guardrail, leaving the bridge abutment unprotected. ABF paid defendant for removal and replacement of the guardrail; however, it was not replaced until construction on the bridge was complete, some time after plaintiff's accident.

In November, construction on the south lane was completed and the temporary guardrail and barricades were removed. A decision was made by the resident engineer and defendant's job superintendent not to attempt removal of the white traffic control line. Removal had proved difficult in the past and it was believed the line would be worn away by traffic. However, the line did not wear as planned and on December 12, jenite, a thick black liquid, was applied in an attempt to cover the line. The jenite failed so that on the date of plaintiff's accident the traffic control line was still visible. Several other attempts to eradicate the line were made following the accident.

Plaintiff's accident occurred on a dark and wet night in January 1975. Earlier in the evening, plaintiff and a friend, Dennis Moreland, drove from Pana, Illinois, to Vandalia, sharing a marijuana cigarette as they drove. In Vandalia, they each had a couple of beers while playing pool. About 6:30 p.m. they left, and after driving around Vandalia for a short time, plaintiff and Moreland set out for Effingham on I-70. According to plaintiff's testimony, he stopped the car just outside Vandalia so that Moreland could test drive the car. Moreland took over control of the car, smoking another marijuana cigarette as he drove. Plaintiff did not smoke but remembered feeling a little sick to his stomach. As they approached the Camp Creek bridge at about 60-65 miles per hour, plaintiff saw the traffic control line and said something to Moreland about it. Moreland, thinking they were to follow it, cut sharply to the left, causing the rear of the car to slide to the right. As the car continued to slide, plaintiff saw the gap in the guardrail but did not see the bridge abutment. The car then struck the bridge in a northerly direction, causing the bridge abutment to be driven four feet into the front of the car.

Police and medical personnel arrived at the accident scene shortly. Plaintiff was found pinned in the car just to the right of the steering wheel, his head through the windshield. Moreland was hanging from the passenger door. The driver of the wrecker and an ambulance attendant smelled alcohol at the scene. Both full and empty beer cans were found in the car and near the wreckage.

Plaintiff was taken to Fayette County Hospital in Vandalia and was then transferred to Decatur, Illinois. He remained in a coma for 11 days. After regaining consciousness, plaintiff was unable to recall any details of the accident for a four- to six-week period. Thereafter, plaintiff progressively regained his memory. He was discharged from the hospital on March 24, 1975; although, he has continued to see doctors for headaches, dizziness and stiffness. Dennis Moreland is unable to remember anything about the accident.

• 1 The first issue raised by plaintiff on appeal is that the jury's verdict in favor of defendant on the road construction injuries act count (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 121, par. 314.1 et seq.) was against the manifest weight of the evidence. In our opinion the act does not apply to the plaintiff's claimed violations of the act at the Camp Creek construction site at the time of the accident.

The act's purpose is to protect workmen and the general public from injury or death during construction or repair of bridges and highways within the State of Illinois. (Vegich v. McDougal Hartmann Co. (1981), 84 Ill.2d 461, 419 N.E.2d 918.) Section 1 of the act provides:

"All construction work upon bridges or highways within the State of Illinois shall be so performed and conducted that two-way traffic will be maintained when such is safe and practical, and when not safe and practical, or when any portion of the highway is obstructed, one-way traffic shall be maintained, unless the authorized agency in charge of said construction directs the road be closed to all traffic." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 121, par. 314.1.)

Other sections of the act require the contractor to provide flagmen or traffic signals at construction sites where one-way traffic is utilized (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 121, par. 314.2) and require proper signs or barricades when highways or bridges are closed to all traffic (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 121, par. 314.4). Section 6 of the act imposes liability on contractors and drivers of motor vehicles for injuries to persons occasioned by knowing and wilful violations of the act. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 121, par. 314.6.

Although we acknowledge that the act, as a safety statute, is to be liberally construed (Kreke v. Caldwell Engineering Co. (1982), 105 Ill. App.3d 213, 221, 433 N.E.2d 1337, 1343-44), we cannot ignore the plain language of the act. It is obviously concerned with the unusually dangerous situation where a highway is closed altogether (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 121, pars. 314.2, 314.3), or there is only one lane of traffic for use by vehicles traveling in opposite directions (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 121, pars. 314.2, 314.3). ...

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