Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 97 L 798 Honorable Mary A. Mulhern, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Reid
The plaintiff, Joseph Yates, brought suit against the defendants, Nancy Shackelford, Becker Transportation, Inc. (Becker), John Junkins, Green Oak Farms, Inc. (Green Oak), and Brown Transport, Inc. (Brown Transport), seeking damages for injuries he received during an automobile accident. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Yates subsequently moved the court to reconsider and the motion was denied.
On appeal, Yates contends the trial court committed error when it denied his motion to reconsider because genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether: (1) Shackelford's act of parking her semi-tractor trailer truck on the left shoulder of the highway, in violation of section 11-1303(a)(1)(k) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/ 11-1303(a)(1)(k)(West 1996)), proximately caused the accident in which Yates collided into the rear of her trailer as she was attempting to merge back into traffic, and (2) Junkins applied his brakes in a timely fashion and took proper evasive maneuvers to avoid colliding into Yates' vehicle. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's decision.
During a discovery deposition, Shackelford testified that on November 20, 1996, she was driving a semi-tractor trailer truck (semi), which was owned by Becker, westbound on Interstate 80 (I-80), when she was informed by radio that the rear taillights of her trailer were not functioning. In response, Shackelford pulled over onto the left shoulder of the highway to check the electrical connection to the trailer. After reconnecting the lights, Shackelford reentered her vehicle and began driving on the shoulder in an attempt to gain speed before merging into the left lane.
Shackelford said that she checked her passenger side mirror for oncoming vehicles in the left lane. After seeing that the lane was clear, she activated her turn signal and began to merge into the left lane from the shoulder. The speed limit on I-80 is 55 miles per hour. As she was merging from the shoulder to the left lane, Shackelford estimated that she was traveling 50 miles per hour.
Shackelford testified that as she was merging, she saw Yates switch lanes from the center lane to the left lane. Prior to Yates switching lanes, Shackelford's view of Yates' car was obstructed because Yates was driving behind a semi in the middle lane. She estimated that Yates was 500 feet behind her but could not approximate how fast he was driving. Shackelford said that Yates never slowed down prior to hitting the back of her trailer. Shackelford said that her trailer was fully in the left lane before the accident occurred. The front end of Yates' vehicle collided into the middle of the rear of her trailer. At the time of impact, Shackelford estimated that she was traveling 55 miles per hour.
During a deposition, Junkins testified that prior to the accident, he was under dispatch with Brown Transport and was driving a semi owned by Green Oak westbound on I-80 in the center lane. Earlier, Junkins was informed by radio that a semi was parked ahead on the left shoulder of the highway. Junkins said that he made visual contact with Shackelford's semi when he was approximately a half mile away. Junkins could clearly see the semi and its lights. Junkins thought that the semi was moving on the shoulder.
When Junkins was approximately a quarter mile from Shackelford's semi, he could see that it was moving along the shoulder with its right turn signal activated. Junkins looked into his driver's side mirror and saw that the left lane was clear of traffic.
When Junkins was approximately 500 feet from Shackelford's semi, he saw Yates' car pass him in the left lane. Junkins said that he was driving 55 miles per hour and estimated that Yates was traveling 85 miles per hour. Junkins testified that there was a car in front of him in the middle lane as well. He estimated the car to be a truck length ahead.
Junkins said that he let his foot off the gas pedal when Yates passed him because of the situation developing ahead. Junkins testified that he could see that Yates would not have a lot of room to maneuver in the left lane because Shackelford's semi was coming off the shoulder, and there was also the car in front of Junkins in the middle lane as well. Junkins wanted to create some space in case Yates needed to switch from the left lane to the middle lane.
Junkins estimated that he started to apply his brakes when he was approximately 500 to 250 feet from Shackelford's semi. When Junkins was approximately 250 feet from Shackelford's semi, he estimated that 50% to 75% of the left lane was occupied by the truck. He estimated that she was traveling between 30 to 40 miles per hour.
At this point, Junkins thought that Yates was attempting to pass in front of the car that was ahead in the middle lane. Although Yates did not have a turn signal on, Junkins was under this belief because of the speed that Yates was traveling. Junkins then saw Yates' vehicle drift toward the right side of the left lane as it neared Shackelford's truck. Just as Yates' car was overcoming the car in front of Junkins, Yates slammed on the brakes and hit Shackelford's right rear trailer tires. Junkins said that the car in front of him never braked. Junkins thought that the driver of the car never knew of Yates' presence.
At this point, Junkins was braking hard and skidding. After Yates hit the back of Shackelford's trailer, Yates' vehicle quarter turned counterclockwise into the middle lane. Junkins then hit Yates' car in the driver's side. At the time of impact, Junkins estimated that he was traveling between 40 to 45 miles per hour.
Junkins estimated that a small portion of the trailer was still on the shoulder when the accident occurred. Junkins estimated that Yates was traveling "well above the speed limit" because he did not brake prior to hitting the rear of Shackelford's trailer. Junkins said that Shackelford's semi completely entered the left lane just after the accident. Junkins said that Shackelford was traveling "in the neighborhood of 40 miles an hour" when the accident occurred. Junkins testified that the weather was clear and that the pavement was dry.
Yates has no recollection of the accident and consequently was unable to testify about the sequence of events ...