Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Walter
J. Kowalski, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
This appeal is brought by Preston Trucking Company, Inc. (Preston), S & P Equipment, Inc. (S & P), and Frank Monte, Jr. (referred to jointly as defendants), who were defendants/third-party plaintiffs in a personal injury action instituted by plaintiff, James Kasovic (Kasovic). Kasovic was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Allen Smith (and owned by Smith's employer, Homan Services, Inc. (Homan) which was involved in a collision with a tractor-trailer truck driven by Monte and owned by Preston and S & P. In his complaint, Kasovic claimed that the defendants' negligence proximately caused the injuries he suffered in the collision. The defendants, on the other hand, denied any negligence and in addition, filed a third-party complaint wherein they claimed that it was the negligence of Smith and Homan that proximately caused Kasovic's injuries.
Following a trial on the merits, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Kasovic and against the defendants in the amount of $1,850,000. With regard to the defendants' third-party action, however, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Smith and Homan and against the defendants.
The defendants now bring this appeal challenging the jury's verdict in their third-party action against Smith and Homan (no appeal is sought with regard to the jury's verdict in favor of Kasovic and against the defendants). The defendants contend that a new trial is warranted in the third-party action. Specifically, the defendants assert: (1) that the jury's verdict finding Smith and Homan to be free from any negligence was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence; (2) that the conduct of counsel was so inflammatory and prejudicial that it denied the defendants a fair trial; and (3) that the trial court erred in certain evidentiary rulings and in submitting certain instructions to the jury.
This case arises out of an accident which occurred at the intersection of Algonquin Road and Dempster Street in Mount Prospect. On August 21, 1978, plaintiff, James Kasovic, was riding as a passenger in a vehicle operated by Allen Smith. Both Smith and Kasovic were employees of Homan. The vehicle operated by Smith and traveling in a westerly direction along Algonquin Road toward Dempster Street. At the same time, however, the defendants' vehicle, driven by Frank Monte, was traveling in an easterly direction along Algonquin Road as it approached Dempster Street.
At the corner of Algonquin and Dempster, the defendants' vehicle made a left-hand turn to travel east on Dempster Street. As the defendants' vehicle was turning, however, the vehicle operated by Smith collided into the defendants' vehicle resulting in the injuries suffered by Kasovic.
At the trial of this cause, three occurrence witnesses testified: (1) defendant Frank Monte (driver of the defendants' vehicle); (2) Allen Smith, the driver of the vehicle which collided with the defendants' vehicle; and (3) James Kasovic, the plaintiff who was a passenger in Smith's vehicle. In addition, Donald D. Gavel, a police officer for the village of Mount Prospect (who arrived on the scene after the accident occurred), testified as to what he observed.
Defendant Monte testified that the intersection of Algonquin and Dempster has overhanging traffic lights as well as traffic signals on poles. At that intersection, Algonquin has three lanes; one lane for those vehicles turning left, and two lanes for those vehicles passing through the intersection. Monte stated that the turning lane was approximately 100 feet long.
Monte further testified that when he entered the left turning lane, the traffic signal was green and the left-turn arrow was also green. He also stated that because the left-turn arrow was green, the arrow for traffic coming from the opposite direction (passing through the intersection) was red. In addition, Monte claimed that when he entered the intersection to begin his left turn, the left-turn arrow was still green.
Monte stated that he first saw the Smith vehicle (in which the plaintiff was a passenger) when the vehicle was approximately 750 feet away. Nevertheless, Monte claimed that as he was making his left turn, he suddenly realized that Smith's vehicle was not going to stop at the intersection. That being the case, Monte determined, "in a split second" that he had to speed up in order to avoid a collision with Smith's vehicle. Monte gave his truck more gas. This effort, however, was futile, for Smith's vehicle collided with the rear of Monte's truck.
Allen Smith, the driver of the other vehicle, presented a different story. Smith stated that as he approached the intersection of Algonquin and Dempster, he was traveling in the left lane. Smith claimed that when he was about a quarter to a half of a block away from the intersection, he first noticed that the light was green for traffic passing through the intersection. Smith further claimed that the light remained green for traffic traveling in his direction as he entered the intersection and that it remained green throughout the entire incident.
Smith further testified that as he approached the intersection, he saw Monte's truck begin to swerve to the right as it began to make a wide left turn. Smith stated that everything happened very fast and that when he first saw Monte's truck beginning its turn, he applied his brakes and turned to the right in an effort to avoid the oncoming vehicle. However, because Monte's truck suddenly went faster (as a result of ...