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06/28/96 KALEN MACK v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY

June 28, 1996

KALEN MACK, SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF PENELOPE BRETTSCHNEIDER, DECEASED, CYNTHIA BRETTSCHNEIDER, AS NEXT-OF-KIN AND INDIVIDUALLY, RALPH BRETTSCHNEIDER, AS NEXT-OF-KIN AND INDIVIDUALLY, AND BRIAN BRETTSCHNEIDER, AS NEXT-OF-KIN AND INDIVIDUALLY AND EACH OF THEM, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, A CORPORATION, ET AL., AND WIL-SHORE MOTOR SALES, INC., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, AND GREYHOUND LINES, INC., LESTER C. DEANES, RHONDA L. KING AND TODD M. SCHMITGALL, DEFENDANTS.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, COUNTY DEPARTMENT, LAW DIVISION. THE HONORABLE KENNETH L. GILLIS, JUDGE PRESIDING.

Rehearing Denied September 11, 1996. Released for Publication September 16, 1996.

The Honorable Justice Scariano delivered the opinion of the court. Hartman, P.j., and Burke, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scariano

JUSTICE SCARIANO delivered the opinion of the court:

Cynthia Brettschneider, one of the plaintiffs in this case, testified that when she purchased a 1987 Ford Mustang from defendant Wil-Shore Motor Sales, Inc., Wil-Shore did not mention that the automobile was equipped with a fuel-inertia switch, nor did it advise her that the ignition could become inoperative upon a collision. Although she had read sections of the owner's manual, she did not recall reading anything about a fuel inertia switch; she did, however, admit that it was possible that she had read the section mentioning the switch, but did not remember. Before January 1991, both she and her husband, Brian Brettschneider, had never heard of the Mustang's having a fuel inertia switch.

The owner's manual furnished to Cynthia upon sale of the vehicle contained a section entitled "Starting and Operating Your Vehicle." Within this section, on page 75 of the manual, appears a heading: "If Your Vehicle Cranks But Does Not Start," and the "fuel pump shut-off switch" is then discussed as follows:

"This vehicle is also equipped with a switch located in the luggage compartment/trunk which shuts off the electric fuel pump and fuel flow to the engine in the event of a major collision. Once the switch is triggered, the white reset lever is in the up position and the electric fuel pump is shut off. To restart the vehicle the switch must be manually reset."

Thereafter, the manual instructs the owner how to reset the switch.

On January 5, 1991, the Brettschneider family was travelling in a three-car caravan on Interstate 55. Ralph, the father, led in a rented truck; Brian followed in the 1987 Mustang; and Penny, the deceased, and her mother, Cynthia, were last in a van.

It was snowing, and as Brian switched lanes to pass a salt truck, the Mustang's rear wheels lost traction on the slippery highway and the car began to spin counterclockwise. The van hit the rear of the Mustang as it was spinning. Cynthia testified that it "wasn't much of" a collision. Brian and Cynthia testified that the Mustang came to rest in the right lane; Ralph claimed that it stopped on the right shoulder. Penny stopped further along the road on the left shoulder. Brian turned on the Mustang's hazard lights, and tried to start the engine several times, but was unable to do so.

Brian began trying to push the Mustang toward the right shoulder, but was having difficulty because it was too heavy and because he could not get enough traction on the icy road. He testified that with Penny's help, the car was moved entirely onto the shoulder.

A Greyhound bus and a Camaro were travelling in the right lane toward the stopped Brettschneider vehicles; defendant Rhonda King was driving the Camaro, and defendant Lester Deanes was following in the bus. When Deanes saw the taillights of the three stopped vehicles, a person crossing the highway, and "flashers," he steered the bus into the left lane. He testified that the Mustang was in the right lane, and the truck and van were partially in the left lane and partially on the left shoulder. He did not realize anything was wrong until he was between one and one-and-one-half blocks from the vehicles. Deanes further testified that "all of the sudden [sic]," the Camaro "slammed the brakes," and in attempting to avoid it, Deanes drove onto the left shoulder, downshifted, but "went into a slide," and hit it.

King testified that the first thing she noticed were hazard lights in the left lane, which she thought belonged to another vehicle travelling with its hazards lights on due to the weather conditions. She also saw lights flashing in the right lane ahead of her, which she thought was a car changing lanes. Todd Schmitgall, a passenger in the Camaro, placed the Mustang half in the right lane and half on the shoulder.

When King realized that the cars were not moving, she started to "apply the brakes a little bit," causing the Camaro to begin to skid into the left lane. She tried to head toward the grassy median, but was struck on the left front quarter panel by the Greyhound bus, which ...


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