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Beehn v. Eppard

March 30, 2001

JOANNE T. BEEHN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEVEN ALAN EPPARD, AMERICAN BOAT CARRIERS, INC., PAUL W. CHRISTMAN, J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC., DAVID WILCOX, CASSENS TRANSPORTATION COMPANY AND MICHAEL J. PAHLOW, DEFENDANTS, (CASSENS TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND COUNTERPLAINTIFF AND COUNTERDEFENDANT AND APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE,
v.
PAUL W. CHRISTMAN AND J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC., DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERDEFENDANTS AND APPELLEES AND CROSS-APPELLANTS; STEVEN ALAN EPPARD AND AMERICAN BOAT CARRIERS, INC., DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERDEFENDANTS AND COUNTERPLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 94 L 09340 The Honorable Philip A. Fleischman, Presiding Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justce Buckley

In April 1994, plaintiff Joanne Beehn was involved in a multivehicle traffic accident. In July 1994, Beehn filed a com-plaint for personal injuries against trucking companies Cassens Transportation (Cassens), J.B. Hunt Transport (Hunt), American Boat Carriers (ABC), and the respective drivers of each truck involved in the April 1994 accident. Cassens filed a counterclaim for damage to its truck and cargo against Hunt and ABC. Prior to trial, the court granted a motion in limine precluding Cassens from introducing evidence relating to its damaged cargo. The jury found in Cassens' favor with respect to its counterclaim for damage to its truck. On appeal, Cassens contends that the trial court erred by precluding Cassens from introducing evidence relating to its damaged cargo. We reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 7, 1994, Steven Eppard was driving an empty boat carrier for ABC. Eppard was driving eastbound on I-80/94 and approximately four or five seconds behind a blue Cadillac. Sud-denly, Eppard saw the Cadillac's brake lights illuminate. Eppard applied his brakes but they locked and he hit the Cadillac. ABC's truck jackknifed and hit the barrier wall that separates the eastbound and westbound traffic. This collision triggered a chain reaction. Both Beehn's car and Hunt's truck, driven by Paul Christman, collided with ABC's truck. Then, Cassens' truck, driven by David Wilcox, collided with Hunt's truck.

On July 28, 1994, Beehn filed a complaint for personal injuries against, inter alia, Cassens, ABC, Hunt, and their respective drivers. Cassens filed a counterclaim against Hunt and ABC, seeking to recover property damage to its truck and the 10 Infiniti J30 automobiles that it carried. The counterclaim alleged that ABC, Hunt, and their respective drivers failed to act with due care and, as a result, Cassens sustained damage to its truck (totaling $6,344) and cargo (totaling $30,649).

On November 13, 1998, Hunt filed a motion in limine, which ABC joined, seeking to preclude Cassens from introducing evidence that it sustained damage to its cargo. Primarily, Hunt argued that the owner of the cargo, Nissan Motor Corporation (Nissan), had already received compensation for the cargo through a voluntary payment by Cassens. Hunt argued that recovery by either a bailor or bailee for damage to bailed property through judgment or settlement bars recovery by the other. Following oral arguments, the trial court granted Hunt's motion in limine.

On November 18, 1998, Cassens requested that the trial court reconsider its in limine ruling. After hearing oral arguments, the trial court denied Cassens' motion to reconsider.

Shortly before trial, Beehn filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss Cassens and Wilcox from the suit. However, Cassens' maintained its counterclaim. After hearing the evidence, a jury found in favor of Beehn and against ABC and Hunt, awarding Beehn $368,493 in recoverable damages. *fn1 The jury also found in Cassens' favor with respect to its claim for damages to its truck. The jury deemed Hunt responsible for 80% of the damages to Cassens' truck and assessed ABC with the remaining 20%.

On January 4, 1999, Cassens filed a posttrial motion seeking judgment for damages to its cargo. Specifically, Cassens argued that the trial court erred, as a matter of law, when it barred Cassens' claim and that it was entitled to judgment in light of the jury's determination that Cassens acted without negligence. At the hearing on its posttrial motion, Cassens orally requested to amend its motion to include a request for a new trial limited to the issues of damages as an alternative to an outright judgment. Hunt and ABC argued that the trial court properly granted the motion in limine and that, if the trial court granted Cassens' posttrial motion, it should grant a new trial on all the issues. The trial court denied Cassens' motion and Cassens filed the instant appeal.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Jurisdiction

As a threshold matter, ABC claims that we lack jurisdiction over this appeal. Specifically, ABC notes that the trial court orally denied Cassens' posttrial motion on March 12, 1999, and that Cassens filed an untimely notice of appeal on April 21, 1999. Cassens disagrees and contends that the trial court's written order, filed March 23, 1999, constituted the court's final judgment. Therefore, Cassens argues, its April 21, 1999, notice of appeal was timely. We agree with Cassens.

Similar circumstances arose in Federal Kemper Life Assurance Co. v. Eichwedel, 266 Ill. App. 3d 88 (1994). On appeal, the court noted Supreme Court Rule 272, which states in pertinent part as follows:

"If at the time of announcing final judgment the judge requires the submission of a form of written judgment to be signed by [the judge], the clerk shall make a notation to that effect and the judgment becomes final ...


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