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Kyrouac v. Brockman





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Grundy County; the Hon. Richard R. Wilder, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied January 19, 1984.

This is an appeal by the plaintiff, Sally Kyrouac, from a jury verdict in the circuit court of Grundy County in favor of the defendants, Timothy Brockman and G-W Communications.

The incident out of which this personal injury action arose occurred on December 7, 1977, shortly after 7 a.m. The plaintiff was driving to work, heading east, on the Pine Bluff-Lorenzo two-lane road. When the plaintiff was approximately one mile east of the intersection of the Pine Bluff-Lorenzo Road and the Dresden Road, the vehicle she was driving was struck by a vehicle driven by the defendant in a westerly direction.

There is no dispute that the defendant's vehicle struck the plaintiff's vehicle in her eastbound lane and that no part of the plaintiff's vehicle was in the westbound lane. The question is whether the trial court erred in denying plaintiff's motion for a judgment n.o.v. after the court had directed a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on the issue of the plaintiff's negligence.

At trial, the plaintiff testified that on the morning of the accident she was on her way to work from her home at Goose Lake. She indicated that there was snow on both of the shoulders of the Pine Bluff-Lorenzo Road but that she did not remember encountering any ice or snow on the road itself. She testified that, at the time of the accident, she was driving about 35 miles per hour. Her vehicle was struck by the defendant's vehicle approximately one mile from the four-way stop at the Dresden Road.

The plaintiff indicated that hers was the lead car in the eastbound line of cars and that westbound there was a steady stream of traffic. It appeared to her that the westbound lane was traveling faster than she was. The plaintiff further indicated that it was daylight on a typical winter day and that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred which would bring the road surface to her attention.

Prior to the collision, the plaintiff did not notice anyone having problems driving on the road, e.g., fishtailing. She indicated that two or three seconds elapsed from the time the defendant's car left its lane and collided with hers. She slammed on the brakes and put her hand over her face. At the time of impact no portion of her car was in the defendant's lane; his entire car was in her lane.

It was stipulated at trial that on the day of the occurrence, December 7, 1977, the defendant, Timothy Brockman, was an employee of the defendant, G-W Communications, Inc., acting within the scope of his employment. The defendant, Timothy Brockman, testified that on the day of the accident he was on his way to Ottawa in connection with his employment and that he was driving a 1978 Chevette belonging to someone else. He was familiar with the car, however, having driven it before. The defendant testified that after he passed County Line Road, he saw a white van in front of him fishtail. When he saw the van fishtail, he took his foot off the accelerator but he did not apply his brakes at all before the collision.

According to the defendant, the accident occurred less than a mile west of County Line Road. The visibility was clear. Prior to reaching County Line Road, the defendant did not observe any vehicle fishtailing on the road. He indicated that prior to the accident he had encountered just small patches of ice, "nothing to really amount to anything."

On cross-examination, the defendant indicated that he took his foot off the accelerator approximately one second before he started to skid. He did not see a patch of ice there; rather, he assumed that there was a patch of ice because the van in front of him had fishtailed. The van did not go into the other lane, however.

Both sides agree that the well-known Pedrick standard is the measure to be applied to the question before us. In Pedrick, the Illinois Supreme Court articulated the standard as follows:

"In our judgment verdicts ought to be directed and judgments n.o.v. entered only in those cases in which all of the evidence, when viewed in its aspect most favorable to the opponent, so overwhelmingly favors movant that no contrary verdict based on that evidence could ever stand." Pedrick v. Peoria & Eastern R.R. Co. (1967), 37 Ill.2d 494, 510, 229 N.E.2d 504, 513-14.

In essence, the plaintiff's argument is that, once it has been unequivocally established that the accident occurred when the plaintiff's vehicle was entirely in its own lane, the burden then shifts to the defendant to provide some explanation for the accident other than his own negligence. In support of her position, the plaintiff points to Sughero v. Jewel Tea Co. (1967), 37 Ill.2d 240, 242, 226 N.E.2d 28, 29, in which the court determined that once the plaintiff had shown that the defendant's vehicle was on the wrong side of the road ...

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