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Strasma v. Rager

OPINION FILED JULY 23, 1986.

EDWARD J. STRASMA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

VIRGINIA A. RAGER, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Tazewell County; the Hon. Ivan L. Yontz, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE HEIPLE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The accident occurred on Route 24 on a misty, somewhat foggy morning in November 1981. Route 24 is a straight and level two-lane road with a posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour. The plaintiff was headed west to Peoria. The plaintiff came to a stop in traffic. The vehicle between the plaintiff's car and the defendant's car was a pickup truck. The pickup truck avoided a collision with the stopped car being driven by the plaintiff by swerving to the right and down an incline into a ditch. The defendant drove her car into the rear of plaintiff's car. The defendant testified that she was traveling at 10 to 15 miles per hour, about one-half to one car length behind the pickup, when it suddenly swerved off the road. The defendant hit her brakes as hard as she could but was unable to stop until after she struck the rear of the plaintiff's car. The defendant pleaded guilty after receiving a ticket for traveling too fast for conditions.

The defendant further testified that the pickup truck blocked her forward vision. When the pickup left the road she followed it off with her eyes. Her vehicle traveled 1 to 1 1/2 car lengths while she was watching the pickup. Then she looked up and saw the plaintiff's car. She testified that she applied her brakes as fast as she could but was unable to stop in time. The defendant testified that she did not attempt to swerve to the right or to the left because the pickup was in the ditch to her right and there was an oncoming lane of traffic to her left.

Jerri Ramey, the driver of the pickup truck, testified that it sits up higher than a car. She observed the defendant's vehicle immediately prior to the time that her vehicle went off the road. She did not feel the defendant's vehicle was following too closely.

The initial question raised in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in failing to grant plaintiff's motions for a directed verdict or judgment n.o.v. The standard applied in determining whether or not to grant a directed verdict or a judgment n.o.v. is whether 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.

In the present case, the plaintiff maintains that in rear-end-collision cases there is a generally accepted line of precedent for holding the driver of the rear vehicle negligent as a matter of law. In support of his position, plaintiff cites Glenn v. Mosley (1976), 39 Ill. App.3d 172, where the court stated:

"In rear-end collisions, the question of negligence must be decided on the particular facts of each case, but, generally, a party who collides with a stopped vehicle is guilty of negligence as a matter of law." (39 Ill. App.3d 172, 176.

The plaintiff also cites Burroughs v. McGinness (1978), 63 Ill. App.3d 664, wherein the court held:

"In light of general experience and common knowledge, the evidence before us reveals that the defendant was not attentive while driving and therefore, negligent. A driver approaching from the rear has the duty to keep a safe lookout and he must take into consideration the fact that he may be required to stop or slow his vehicle suddenly. [Citations.] Furthermore if he does not maintain a proper lookout for traffic ahead he is negligent. [Citation.]" 63 Ill. App.3d 664, 667.

The plaintiff posits that the application of Glenn and Burroughs demonstrates that the defendants' conduct violated the principles in these cases and constitutes negligence. See also Waldron v. Hardwick (1968), 99 Ill. App.2d 36; Apato v. Be Mac Transport Co. (1972), 7 Ill. App.3d 1099; Payne v. Kingsley (1965), 59 Ill. App.2d 245.

• 1 While we have no dispute with the above cited cases, other cases have held that a rear-end collision does not automatically create an inference as a matter of law that the driver of the rear car was negligent or that he was following too closely or driving too fast for conditions. Rather, it is the responsibility of the trier of fact to determine whether the rear driver, in such accidents, was acting reasonably under the circumstances, or that the accident was unavoidable. (Burgdorff v. International Business Machines Corp. (1979), 74 Ill. App.3d 158, 163.) See also Kent v. Knox Motor Service, Inc. (1981), 95 Ill. App.3d 223; Thomas v. Northington (1985), 134 Ill. App.3d 141.

• 2 In the case at bar, there is present a clear question for the jury as to whether the defendant's driving too fast for conditions was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's alleged injuries. The defendant was ticketed for violating section 11-601 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-601). The defendant pleaded guilty to the charge that she failed to decrease her speed in order to safely encounter hazardous weather and highway conditions. However, it does not follow that such a violation presents proof of negligence per se or a finding of contributory negligence as a matter of law. "The failure to obey one or more statutory provisions of the Illinois Vehicle Code is only evidence of negligence to be considered by the jury along with all the other attendant circumstances." (Doris v. Bradley (1979), 76 Ill. App.3d 890, 893.) See also Lerette v. Director General (1922), 306 Ill. 348.

• 3 In Gullberg v. Blue (1980), 85 Ill. App.3d 389, the defendant struck the rear of the plaintiff's car. The defendant, Blue, was issued a traffic ticket for driving too fast for conditions. To this charge he pleaded guilty and paid a fine. The Gullberg opinion held that standing alone, a plea of guilty to the offense of driving too fast for conditions was insufficient to establish that the driver was negligent. (85 Ill. App.3d 389, 391.) Therefore, whether the defendant's driving too fast for conditions was a proximate cause of the collision was a question for the trier of fact to be considered along with all the other attendant facts and circumstances.

• 4 The evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the defendant, shows that the plaintiff, Strasma, came to a stop in traffic. The defendant, who was admittedly driving too fast for conditions, was unable to bring her vehicle to a stop after the pickup truck in front of her suddenly swerved off the road. At that time, the defendant first saw the plaintiff's stationary vehicle. A collision ensued. Whether the defendant was negligent and whether she proximately caused the collision were proper questions of fact for the jury. We cannot say that the inferences which might be reasonably drawn from this evidence so overwhelmingly favors the plaintiff that no contrary verdict could ever stand. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion for a directed verdict and a judgment n.o.v. were properly denied.

• 5 Plaintiff next contends that the trial court erred in not allowing him to question prospective jurors about any interest or connection they may have in an automobile-insurance company. Prior to trial, plaintiff filed a motion for voir dire. The plaintiff ...


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