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Raper v. Hazelett & Erdal

OPINION FILED MAY 13, 1983.

JAMES F. RAPER, ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF BETH RAPER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

HAZELETT & ERDAL, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Myron T. Gomberg, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE LORENZ DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, James Raper, administrator of the estate of Beth Raper, brought suit to recover damages against defendant Hazelett & Erdal, an Illinois partnership, for damages sustained by the alleged negligence of defendant in the construction and design of a highway median in Kentucky over which an errant vehicle crossed, striking the car of plaintiff's decedent and resulting in her death.

The trial court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the grounds that a prior suit, brought by plaintiff in the Kentucky Board of Claims, found that the median was constructed in accordance with industry standards in effect at the time it was built, and plaintiff appeals.

The solitary issue on review is whether the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion for summary judgment on the basis of collateral estoppel.

The pertinent facts follow. On October 20, 1978, a car northbound on Interstate 65 in the Commonwealth of Kentucky went out of control when its left front tire blew out, traversed the highway median, and struck the car driven by the plaintiff's decedent, Beth Raper.

Plaintiff filed suit in Kentucky against the driver of the car that struck plaintiff's decedent, and received a settlement of $10,000 on January 30, 1980. Subsequently, a second suit was filed in the Kentucky Board of Claims against the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which alleged that Interstate 65 was either negligently designed or constructed by the Commonwealth, its contractors, or subcontractors, thereby permitting a motor vehicle to cross the median.

Plaintiff's complaint alleged, inter alia, that:

"7. Interstate 65 was negligently designed or in the alternative negligently constructed so as to permit the motor vehicle operated by Elizabeth Evans to cross the median strip and strike the motor vehicle owned and operated by Beth H. Raper, deceased, and said negligence was a substantial factor in causing the death of Beth H. Raper.

8. Said negligent design and/or construction was performed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and/or by employees, servants, agents, architects, engineers, contractors or subcontractors employed or retained by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and under the supervision and control of the Commonwealth of Kentucky."

A hearing was held before the Kentucky Board of Claims on December 14, 1979, wherein both parties presented the board with deposition testimony of expert witnesses, and plaintiff, in addition, presented eyewitness testimony. The Board of Claims unanimously held that the median was not defectively designed at the time it was constructed, stating: "The expert witness called by the defendant * * * testified that the median was designed and constructed in accordance with the AASHO standards at that time. While it is true that the expert for the Plaintiff * * * testified to the contrary, it is this Board's finding that the design of the median in question was acceptable at the time the highway was constructed. While the record holds evidence that it would not be so if it were constructed by today's standards, there is nothing to show this Board that the median in question was not designed and constructed in accordance with standards prevailing at the time of its design and construction." Plaintiff did not appeal this ruling, and the statute of limitations period prescribed by Kentucky law expired on October 20, 1979.

Plaintiff brought suit against defendant, the Illinois contractor that supervised the construction of one section of Interstate 65, on October 19, 1979, alleging, inter alia, that defendant was negligent in failing to design or construct a median capable of preventing northbound vehicles from crossing over to the southbound lanes of traffic, or, in the alternative, of designing or constructing the highway with such obviously dangerous specifications that no competent contractor would have followed them.

Various pleadings were filed, and on March 10, 1981, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that the prior administrative determination rendered by the Kentucky Board of Claims collaterally estopped the plaintiff from relitigating the issue of the design and construction of the median. The trial court granted this motion on October 5, 1981, and plaintiff appeals.

OPINION

• 1 Initially, we note that the policy underlying the doctrine of res judicata, of which collateral estoppel is a part, is stated in section 1 ...


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