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03/09/89 George Joseph Drobney, Adm v. Federal Sign and Signal

March 9, 1989





GEORGE JOSEPH DROBNEY, Adm'r of the Estate of Bridget

539 N.E.2d 186, 182 Ill. App. 3d 471, 131 Ill. Dec. 833 1989.IL.289

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macoupin County; the Hon. Raymond L. Terrell, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court. LUND, J., concurs. JUSTICE GREEN, specially Concurring upon denial of petition of rehearing.


On July 13, 1985, three men in rural Macoupin County activated a red "police light" on their car, causing 16-year-old Bridget Drobney to stop. The men "arrested" Bridget and drove her to a nearby cornfield where they raped and killed her. (See People v. Hines (1988), 165 Ill. App. 3d 289, 518 N.E.2d 1362, appeal denied (1988), 121 Ill. 2d 577, 526 N.E.2d 835.) The light used by the men to stop Bridget was allegedly manufactured and distributed by defendant Federal Sign and Signal Corporation.

On June 22, 1988, plaintiff George Joseph Drobney, administrator of the estate of Bridget Drobney, filed a six-count second-amended complaint predicated on the theories of negligence, strict liability, and wilful and wanton misconduct. Plaintiff appeals from the order by the circuit court of Macoupin County granting defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint. The propriety of that order is the only question for review.

The complaint as amended alleged the defendant corporation designs, manufactures and distributes a signal light known as the "fireball red light," which is a 12-volt, red, oscillating and rotating light. On July 13, 1985, Daniel Hines, Robert Turner, and Michael Turner allegedly used defendant's "fireball red light" to impersonate police officers and to stop, rape, and murder Bridget Drobney in rural Macoupin County.

Amended count I alleged negligent distribution of the "fireball red light" by defendant in an unlimited and unrestricted manner was the proximate cause of Bridget's death. It alleged, in addition to the facts already set forth, defendant had a duty to sell, design, manufacture, and distribute the "fireball red light" to persons or firms that would use the light for legal purposes. Count I admitted lack of knowledge and an inability to determine how Hines and the Turners purchased or came into possession of the "fireball red light." Count I further alleged defendant knew or should have known its red oscillating light could be used to facilitate criminal acts of rape and murder. Plaintiff alleged such lights have been used in Macoupin County and in other jurisdictions by individuals who, while impersonating police officers, committed rape and murder. Count I charged the foreseeability defendant's product could be used illegally was evidenced by the alleged statement by an agent of defendant that he "hoped it was not . . . [defendant's] light" which was used as an instrument in the rape and murder of Bridget. Finally, count I alleged the failure by defendant to limit its sales to the general public enabled Hines and the Turners to come into possession of a "fireball red light." As a direct and proximate result of such negligent sale and distribution, plaintiff alleged defendant caused the death of Bridget Drobney.

Count II was premised upon strict liability and alleged the fireball red light manufactured by defendant was unreasonably dangerous and defective in design. The light's defective condition was alleged as its "red oscillating nature and ability to be used for the illegal purpose of impersonating police officers." Count II further alleged the benefits of the "fireball red light" as designed are outweighed by the risk of danger inherent in that design. In addition, plaintiff alleged a safer alternate design could, for minimal consequence and cost to defendant, produce a product that does not oscillate and is not red in color. Finally, count II charged the sale of the defectively designed light by defendant was the proximate cause of Bridget's death.

Counts III and IV reiterated the charges contained in counts I and II respectively and requested compensatory damages for medical and funeral expenses incurred by plaintiff as a result of Bridget's death. Counts V and VI alleged wilful and wanton misconduct on the part of defendant; count V for defendant's negligent distribution, and count VI for its defective design of the "fireball red light."

On August 31, 1988, the trial court, having already dismissed two similar complaints filed by plaintiff in this case, granted defendant's motion to dismiss the second-amended complaint for failure to state a cause of action. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 2-615.

The test for the sufficiency of a complaint is whether it sets forth a valid claim as its avenue for recovery and whether it pleads facts sufficient to bring the claim within the legally recognized cause of action alleged. (People ex rel. Fahner v. Carriage Way West, Inc. (1981), 88 Ill. 2d 300, 430 N.E.2d 1005; Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, pars. 2-603(c), 2-612(b).) All well-pleaded facts must be taken as true, as well as all reasonable inferences ...

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