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Tuttle v. Fruehauf Corp.

OPINION FILED MARCH 21, 1984.

DONALD TUTTLE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

FRUEHAUF DIVISION OF FRUEHAUF CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Harry S. Stark, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE RIZZI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Donald Tuttle, sought damages for personal injuries which occurred on July 11, 1974, when he lost control of the tractor-trailer truck that he was driving, and the vehicle went off the road and collided with a fixed object. Judgment was entered on a jury verdict in favor of defendant, Fruehauf Division of Fruehauf Corporation, the company that had repaired the trailer approximately two months before the accident. Plaintiff appeals the judgment in favor of defendant and the denial of his post-trial motion on the grounds that (1) he was entitled to a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence which met the exaggerated and false testimony of one of defendant's expert witnesses, (2) the court erred in allowing testimony by one of defendant's witnesses that was beyond the scope of the witness' expertise, (3) the court abused its discretion in preventing him from referring to admissions in defendant's third-party complaint, (4) the court erred in refusing his tendered Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction regarding a party's failure to produce physical evidence in its control, and (5) the court erred in not granting his motions for a mistrial and in not giving cautionary instructions when defendant attempted to have a police report admitted into evidence and attempted to elicit testimony regarding an unrelated injury to plaintiff. We affirm.

The evidence at trial revealed that in May 1974, approximately two months before plaintiff's accident, defendant installed riser blocks on the trailer plaintiff was operating at the time of the accident. Two mechanics employed by defendant in 1974 testified that they did not remember doing the installation on this particular trailer, but that they installed riser blocks in accordance with the instructions of their foreman, John Jarosz. Their instructions were to tighten the u-bolts with an air wrench, then hit the u-bolts with a hammer and listen for a bell-like sound which indicates that the bolts are tight enough. Neither mechanic had seen any written specifications or instructions for installing riser blocks.

Plaintiff testified that in May 1974, he looked at the repair work on the trailer and saw a riser block that did not have a weld on its end and looked like it was made out of spring leaves, a type he had never seen before. On July 11, 1974, after driving the trailer with the newly installed riser blocks approximately 10,000 miles, plaintiff was in fourteenth gear, going 40 to 45 miles per hour, heading downgrade into a bend on a two-lane road in Ohio with which he was familiar. He heard a noise, then felt a drag and a sudden pull to the right. The truck left the highway, went down in a ditch and hit a utility pole.

Plaintiff's expert witness, Lester Kolom, an industrial engineer, testified that it is desirable that components such as riser blocks be made in one piece to avoid the separation and shift of the four pieces of a leaf spring. In addition, Kolom stated that most riser block manufacturers provide specifications for installing riser blocks with u-bolts, including a narrow range for tightening the u-bolts that hold the riser blocks. According to Kolom, if the u-bolt is too loose, it loosens more and drops off. Kolom testified that torque specifications can be met with an air wrench, but an air wrench has to be used carefully so that it will not apply too much torque with resultant failure. Kolom believed that a torque wrench should be used whenever u-bolts are installed on an assembly trailer to insured the u-bolts are tightened to the proper torque, and that without a torque wrench, even an experienced mechanic cannot really tell whether the bolt is properly tightened. Further, based on his reconstruction of the accident, Kolom concluded that the accident was caused by the failure of the riser block or u-bolt under the rear axle of the trailer on the right-hand side. Kolom also testified that a crack in the leaf of the spring in the right front wheel of the tractor would have little effect on the operation of the tractor-trailer unless the vehicle was driven over an extreme drop-off or pothole.

John Jarosz, who in 1974 supervised defendant's shop where the trailer had been repaired, testified that riser blocks were installed according to his instructions. He told the mechanics to tighten the u-bolts with an air wrench up to its limit and then check them by tapping the u-bolts with a hammer. Torque wrenches were sometimes used to check the tightness. In May 1974, u-bolts were to be tightened to 340-350 foot-pounds, according to documents supplied by defendant, including a torque chart which was posted in the shop. The air wrenches at the shop were set for 350 to 365.

Officer Cecil Gibson, who investigated plaintiff's accident for the Seneca County, Ohio, sheriff's department, testified that he found no skid marks on the pavement and no evidence of the vehicle sliding off the road. The impressions left in the earth revealed that the wheels of the truck traveled in a fairly straight line from the time the truck left the roadway. Herbert Witt, a damage appraiser, testified that he inspected the tractor-trailer involved in the accident and found some old damage, including a broken leaf on the right spring on the tractor, and some recent damage. Witt testified that a truck with a broken leaf on the spring on the right-hand side of the front axle would pull to the right. He also testified that if riser blocks or u-bolts failed on the right rear of the trailer, rubber marks would be found on the sub-frame and none were found here. According to Witt, good mechanical practice does not require that a torque wrench be used to tighten u-bolts; pinging the metal is as accurate as using a torque wrench. If a u-bolt were not tightened according to specifications, it might come off or it might not. If it were too tight, it might strip a thread. Further, if a u-bolt with specifications of 340 to 360 torque were tightened to 320, there would be no problem. The torque could be 50 to 100 foot-pounds off and still be safe.

Finally, Milton Tennerstedt, a mechanical engineer, testified in response to a hypothetical question that, based on a series of calculations he had made, the riser blocks would not slide. Tennerstedt testified in detail regarding his calculations. He determined that 140 foot-pounds on each nut of each u-bolt represents the point where they are just in balance and will not loosen and fall off. According to Tennerstedt, the point where the nut will come loose under certain vibration conditions is very low, 10, 20, or 50 foot-pounds. Further, Tennerstedt testified that with torque specifications of 340 to 360, 360 represents the value above which one begins to run some small risk of breaking the fastener, and 340 does not represent the minimum, for even under worst-case conditions, 140 foot-pounds is sufficient.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant. At a hearing on his post-trial motion, plaintiff presented the testimony of design engineer Lee Rose, who stated that 140 foot-pounds and 10, 20, or 50 foot-pounds are totally inadequate torque levels under real-world driving conditions where vibration levels are extremely high. The court found that Rose's testimony merely established a difference of opinion between experts and did not establish that Tennerstedt's testimony was false. The court struck Rose's testimony and denied plaintiff's post-trial motion.

• 1 Plaintiff first contends that he was denied a fair trial as a result of Tennerstedt's testimony. Plaintiff maintains that he was surprised by Tennerstedt's testimony and that the testimony was exaggerated and false as demonstrated by new evidence which plaintiff discovered after trial and presented to the court during the hearing on plaintiff's post-trial motion. Thus, plaintiff argues that the court should have granted him a new trial. We disagree.

The basic requirements for a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence are that the newly discovered evidence be (1) of such conclusive character that it will probably change the result if a new trial is granted, (2) discovered since the trial, (3) such that it could not have been discovered before trial with the exercise of due diligence, (4) material to the issue and (5) not merely cumulative to the evidence at trial. (Kaster v. Wildermuth (1969), 108 Ill. App.2d 288, 291-92, 247 N.E.2d 431, 433.) The party seeking the new trial has the burden of showing that these requirements have been met. (See Runowicz v. Rock Island Bank & Trust Co. (1967), 90 Ill. App.2d 222, 227, 232 N.E.2d 459, 462.) The giving of false testimony in and of itself is not a sufficient basis for granting a new trial (Kaster v. Wildermuth (1969), 108 Ill. App.2d 288, 293, 247 N.E.2d 431, 434), nor is the fact that the party was surprised at trial by testimony regarding a material fact which could not be foreseen (see Darrough v. White Motor Co. (1979), 74 Ill. App.3d 560, 562, 393 N.E.2d 122, 124).

In this case, Tennerstedt testified that riser blocks such as those on the trailer here would not slide under the worst-case circumstances described in a hypothetical question. Tennerstedt also testified that the torque specifications of 340 to 360 do not represent minimum-maximum levels. According to Tennerstedt, 140 foot-pounds of torque is sufficient, and under certain vibration conditions, nuts would only come loose with very low torques of 10, 20 or 50 foot-pounds. Plaintiff neither expressed surprise at Tennerstedt's testimony, nor requested a continuance or delay in order to obtain additional evidence. During the hearing on his post-trial motion, plaintiff presented the testimony of design engineer Rose, who stated that 340 to 360 foot-pounds is a specification range outside of which there are no allowable limits, and that Tennerstedt's figures of 140, 10, 20 or 50 foot-pounds are totally inadequate torque levels under real-world driving conditions where vibration levels are extremely high.

We agree with the court's determination that Rose's testimony merely established a difference of opinion between experts. We find nothing which suggests that Tennerstedt's testimony was false, and we believe that plaintiff failed to establish that it was false. As for Rose's testimony, we believe that plaintiff failed to establish that it could not have been discovered before trial with the exercise of due diligence. Prior to trial, plaintiff deposed Tennerstedt and examined his working papers. If Tennerstedt's testimony was such a surprise to plaintiff and was so different from what plaintiff had already learned from him, plaintiff should have requested a continuance in order to obtain rebuttal evidence. However, plaintiff did not express surprise or request a continuance. Rather, he cross-examined Tennerstedt with reference to an article which Tennerstedt had given him. Under the circumstances, we believe plaintiff failed to establish that Tennerstedt's testimony was such that, although duly diligent, plaintiff could not have discovered evidence with which to rebut it, specifically, Rose's testimony, until after the trial. In addition, considering the conclusions of Witt, which were similar to those of Tennerstedt, and the contradictory trial testimony of plaintiff's expert, Kolom, it is not clear that Rose's testimony was so conclusive that it would probably change the result upon retrial. Thus, we conclude that plaintiff was not denied a fair trial and that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion for a new trial.

Next, plaintiff argues that the court erred in allowing Witt to give opinion testimony which was beyond the scope of his expertise. Witt, a professional damage appraiser with experience driving and repairing trucks, testified that if a tractor had a broken leaf on a spring on the right-hand side of the front axle, it would pull to the right. Plaintiff maintains that with this testimony Witt effectively gave his opinion as to the cause of ...


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