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03/03/89 Jane A. Nolan, v. Donald R. Elliott Et Al.

March 3, 1989

JANE A. NOLAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT

v.

DONALD R. ELLIOTT ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, SECOND DISTRICT

535 N.E.2d 1053, 179 Ill. App. 3d 1077, 129 Ill. Dec. 288 1989.IL.272

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Ogle County; the Hon. F. Lawrence Lenz, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court. LINDBERG and WOODWARD, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE MCLAREN

Plaintiff, Jane A. Nolan, filed a negligence action against defendants, Donald R. Elliott and his employer, the City of Rochelle, after she was injured in an automobile accident in July 1984. The jury returned a verdict for both defendants and answered a special interrogatory finding plaintiff to be the sole proximate cause of the accident. Plaintiff's post-trial motion was denied, and this appeal followed. We affirm.

On July 14, 1984, at approximately 1:30 p.m., plaintiff was driving her 1979 Ford station wagon east on Newburg Street in Rockford, Illinois. She had picked up her sister and four other girls in Rockford and was returning home to Bettendorf, Iowa. She was in the left-hand lane for through traffic when she approached the intersection of Newburg and Mulford. It was undisputed that she was driving within the speed limit and had a green light when she entered the intersection.

Defendant Donald Elliott was driving an ambulance north on Mulford in the left-hand lane for through traffic. Mulford is a north/south street having two through lanes of traffic in each direction and a left-turn lane. The sirens and flashing lights were operating on the ambulance at the time defendant approached the intersection. The light was red for defendant at the time he approached the intersection. After slowing down and checking for traffic at the intersection, defendant proceeded into the intersection. He increased his speed in the intersection and was struck by plaintiff's station wagon.

The front end of the station wagon hit the driver's side of the ambulance. The impact caused the station wagon to spin around and strike the ambulance again, this time in the rear. The ambulance continued through the intersection, ending up approximately 100 feet north of Newburg with two wheels up on the median.

Plaintiff testified that she was driving within the speed limit as she was approaching the intersection. She remembered having a green light but that she was afraid the light was about to change to yellow. She stated that all of the car windows were up, the air conditioning was on, and the radio was playing at a low volume. She noticed several cars heading in the same direction as she was stopped in the right-hand lane at the green light. Plaintiff admitted that there were no obstructions to her view of the traffic as she entered the intersection, but at no time before the impact did she hear or see the ambulance.

Plaintiff also testified that she was severely injured as a result of the accident. She had numerous cuts on her face and legs. She also injured her neck, requiring surgery and extensive rehabilitation. The injuries forced her to delay her starting date with her new job, and she is still unable to participate in sporting activities without experiencing a great deal of neck and back pain.

Defendant Donald Elliott testified that he became a paid on-call fire fighter in February 1984. On July 14, 1984, Elliott and Bill Winebaugh (an emergency medical technician) went to Rochelle Community Hospital to pick up a patient to transfer to St. Anthony's Hospital in Rockford. This was defendant's first non-local emergency run as the driver of an ambulance. Defendant stated that the flashing lights were on at all times during the run, and the sirens were on during the run through the city streets. Defendant noted that he approached the intersection of Newburg and Mulford with caution because Winebaugh stated that he had seen numerous accidents at the intersection in the past. Defendant continued to slow down as he got closer to the intersection, eventually reducing his speed to 10 miles per hour. He did not notice any cars in the intersection, although he admitted that the stopped cars may have obstructed his vision. He also admitted that the light was red for him. Defendant began to accelerate after entering the intersection, with his speed estimated at 15 to 20 miles per hour at the time of the accident. Defendant stated that he did not see plaintiff's car until he entered the intersection. At that time, there was no way for him to brake or otherwise avoid the collision.

Several eyewitnesses to the accident testified at trial. All of the witnesses were in automobiles at various locations at the intersection. All of them testified that the ambulance had its flashing lights on, and all but one actually heard the siren. All of the witnesses agreed that plaintiff was driving within the speed limit and that defendant had slowed down prior to entering the intersection.

On February 25, 1988, the jury returned a verdict in favor of both defendants. The jury also determined that plaintiff's conduct was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Following the denial of plaintiff's post-trial motion, this appeal followed.

Plaintiff raises four assignments of error on appeal: (1) whether the jury verdict and special interrogatory finding were against the manifest weight of the evidence; (2) whether the court erred in allowing a previously unidentified witness to testify at trial; (3) whether the court erred in instructing the jury that plaintiff had a duty to sound her horn before entering the intersection; and (4) whether the cumulative effect of other alleged errors deprived plaintiff of a fair and impartial trial.

Plaintiff first contends that the jury's finding that defendants were guilty of no negligence whatsoever is against the manifest weight of the evidence. Plaintiff specifically notes that defendant disregarded a traffic light and entered a dangerous intersection with some obstructions to his vision. Plaintiff contends that this conduct, coupled with the fact that defendant began accelerating after he entered the intersection, clearly establishes defendant's ...


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