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05/17/88 Phillip J. Centracchio, v. Rossi Construction Company

May 17, 1988





524 N.E.2d 1000, 170 Ill. App. 3d 1007, 120 Ill. Dec. 818 1988.IL.761

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. E. C. Johnson, Judge, presiding.

Rehearing denied June 14, 1988.


JUSTICE SCARIANO delivered the opinion of the court. HARTMAN, P.J., and STAMOS, J.,* concur.


Plaintiff, a Chicago police officer, brought this action against Rossi Construction Company (Rossi) to recover for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of a one-car accident on a roadway where Rossi was doing road construction work. Rossi filed a third-party action against the City of Chicago on the ground that the city-owned car driven by the plaintiff was defective and thereby caused the accident. At the close of Rossi's case the court granted the city's motion for a directed verdict. Although the jury returned a verdict for Rossi, the trial Judge granted plaintiff's motion for a new trial. Rossi appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in (1) granting the city's motion for a directed verdict; (2) barring testimony of the police officer who inspected the vehicle in question; and (3) granting plaintiff a new trial.

On the morning of August 31, 1980, plaintiff was driving his police car east on 130th Street at about 30 miles per hour. It had been raining that day and the road was wet. East 130th Street is a four-lane street; however, because the two permanent eastbound lanes were under construction, plaintiff was traveling on one of the permanent westbound lanes that was temporarily designated as an eastbound lane.

Rossi had undertaken road construction work on east 130th Street pursuant to a contract with the County of Cook and had subcontracted with Western Traffic to provide traffic safety services to the jobsite, including signs, barricades and warning lights. In addition to adhering to a regular maintenance schedule, Western's normal procedure was to make complete inspections of the site before long holiday weekends to ensure safe travel conditions for the public. Specifically, at the time the jobsite closed on August 29, 1980, the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, it was inspected by Western and found to be adequately maintained and safe; construction activity had shut down completely from that time until after plaintiff's accident on Sunday, August 31, 1980.

The jobsite was also inspected on Friday, August 29, 1980, by Leroy Hild, Rossi's construction supervisor. Hild testified that he customarily made a drive-through inspection at the end of every workday to ensure that all safety precautions were taken and to make certain that all construction material and equipment were off the roadway so the road would be clear for motor vehicles. Hild further testified that the road was clear when he made his inspection.

On Sunday morning, August 31, 1980, Hild again inspected the site, in response to a call from the Port Authority of Chicago, which had called Rossi to report flooding in the roadway. Hild inspected the entire length of the work area and found nothing unusual in the open roadway.

Plaintiff's accident occurred an hour after Hild left the jobsite. Approximately 100 to 150 feet after leaving a bridge, plaintiff saw two piles of gravel about 18 inches high, 18 inches wide, and placed about 18 inches apart, with their bottoms "[melting] into one another." He saw the two piles of gravel just seconds before the right front wheel of his car went over them; his back wheel may have gone over the piles as well. After his car struck the gravel it began sliding to the right. At first plaintiff "kind of went with" the slide, but then turned his steering wheel once to the left to try to break out of it; the wheel turned, but when plaintiff was unable to turn out of the slide, the car slid through a large pile of four-by-fours and collided with a newly poured cement curb.

Officers John Dorris and Felix Contreras, who came upon the scene subsequent to the incident, both testified that although there was loose gravel scattered about the roadway, there were no piles of it. Police photos taken at the site immediately following the accident show no piles of gravel in the roadway. Immediately following the site investigation, Officers Dorris and Contreras continued to the hospital where plaintiff had been taken and they spoke with him concerning the accident. Plaintiff told the officers that "he had hit some gravel while travelling eastbound on 130th Street, lost control of the vehicle and . . . thought the power steering had gone out."

At the close of Rossi's case, and over Rossi's objection, the trial Judge entered a directed verdict in favor of the city. At the close of all the evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Rossi. Subsequently, the Judge granted plaintiff's motion for a new trial. (A transcript of the hearing on this ...

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