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Young v. Forgas

November 08, 1999


Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 96L207 Honorable Stuart H. Shiffman, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook


8 November 1999

On November 1, 1995, plaintiff, Shawn Young, was injured in a collision involving his pickup truck and a City of Springfield fire department vehicle driven by defendant Paul Forgas. The accident occurred while Forgas and other emergency response vehicles were responding to a fire alarm at the Urban League building. Plaintiff filed suit against Forgas and the City of Springfield. Defendants moved to dismiss some counts and moved for summary judgment on others pursuant to section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 1994)). The trial court granted defendants' motion and plaintiff appeals. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


At approximately 2:30 p.m. on November 1, 1995, Springfield Fire Station Number One was summoned to the Urban League building, at Eleventh and Washington Streets, after receiving an automatic alarm call from a smoke detector at the building. The fire department dispatched a three-vehicle investigative response team to the scene. Forgas, a 20-year veteran, led the convoy to the scene, accompanied by battalion chief Joel Terrill. Forgas utilized the vehicle's emergency sirens and lights while en route to the alarm site. Forgas was followed by a fire engine driven by Mike Brida and another fire truck.

Forgas drove east on Washington Street toward the Urban League building, which is located on the corner of Eleventh and Washington. Washington Street consists of two eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes. Eleventh Street consists of two northbound lanes and two southbound lanes. Left-turn lanes exist for all directions at the intersection of Eleventh and Washington.

As Forgas approached the alarm site, he observed that the occupants of the Urban League building had evacuated the building and were standing on the sidewalk. Forgas could not see any smoke or flames emanating from the building. As Forgas neared the intersection, the light for eastbound traffic on Washington turned red, giving a green light for north-south traffic on Eleventh. Forgas had no obstructions to his view of north-south traffic on Eleventh or westbound traffic on Washington as he proceeded toward the intersection and the alarm site. He observed other vehicles on Eleventh Street slowing or stopped as he approached and, after looking left and right, he proceeded into the intersection. While the exact facts relating to Forgas' speed are in dispute, it appears that he drove through the intersection between 15 and 40 miles per hour against the red light. Plaintiff was southbound on Eleventh and was proceeding through the intersection on a green light when he collided with Forgas. The other emergency vehicles proceeded to the Urban League building and ultimately determined that it was a false alarm.

Later that day, Forgas was issued a traffic citation for violation of section 11-306 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Vehicle Code) (625 ILCS 5/11-306 (West 1994)) for disobeying a red traffic control signal. Forgas appeared in court a few weeks later to plead not guilty to the citation, but ultimately changed his plea to guilty and received a $100 fine and 30 days of court supervision.

Dirk Florence was an independent eyewitness to the collision. Florence was driving north on Eleventh Street toward Washington, but stopped before entering the intersection because he heard the siren and saw the flashing lights from Forgas' vehicle. Florence stated that Forgas did not slow or stop before entering the intersection. Florence estimated that Forgas was traveling at least 40 miles per hour prior to the collision. Florence claimed that Forgas ran the red light at a greater speed than plaintiff's vehicle was proceeding on a green light through the intersection.

Joel Terrill, a passenger in Forgas' vehicle, testified at his deposition that Forgas was traveling approximately 15 miles per hour as he entered the intersection and had slowed to about 10 miles per hour in an attempt to avoid the collision. Mike Brida was the driver-engineer operating the fire truck directly behind Forgas' vehicle. Brida observed the brake lights activated on Forgas' vehicle as it approached the intersection, and he did not see the brake lights go off at any time prior to the collision with plaintiff's truck.

On August 6, 1996, plaintiff filed his original three-count complaint against Forgas and the City of Springfield. Plaintiff subsequently filed his first-amended complaint on August 31, 1998, stating the following counts:

"Count I: Negligence (Forgas)

Count II: Willful and wanton conduct (Forgas)

Count III: Willful and wanton conduct - Respondeat Superior (Springfield)

Count IV: Assumption of duty - Negligence (Forgas)

Count V: Assumption of duty - Negligence (Springfield)."

Count I alleged that Forgas negligently operated a motor vehicle by disobeying the red light, failing to keep a proper lookout, and failing to yield the right-of-way. Count II alleged that Forgas' conduct was willful and wanton in that Forgas drove in utter disregard for the safety of others lawfully entering the intersection and was guilty of consciously disregarding the safety of plaintiff. In support of these allegations, plaintiff cites Forgas' violation of the fire department's safe operating procedures (Operating Procedures). The Operating Procedures contain internal guidelines which require, in part, that emergency vehicle operators stop and account for all lanes of traffic before entering the intersection against a red light. Plaintiff also alleges that Forgas proceeded against the red light at a speed that endangered others lawfully in the intersection.

Count III contains allegations similar to those in count II, but is directed toward the City of Springfield and seeks to impose respondeat superior liability. Counts IV and V are entitled "Assumption of Duty" and allege negligence against Forgas and Springfield for violating the Operating Procedures.

On September 17, 1998, defendants filed a combined motion for summary judgment and motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. Defendants sought summary judgment as to counts I, II, and III based on the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/1-101 et seq. (West 1994)). Defendants moved to dismiss counts IV and V for failure to state a claim.

On January 12, 1999, the trial court heard argument on the combined motion and granted the motion, dismissing the case with ...

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