Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Jury’s Verdict and Direct Verdicts for Plaintiff in Automobile Accident

In this case, the plaintiff Tabitha Wiggins and the defendant Sheila Bonsack were involved in an automobile collision that took place near the intersection of Logan Street and Route 149 in West Frankfort, Ill. The intersection is a 4-way intersection with traffic control devices in each direction. According to the record, the defendant, Bonsack, stopped to get gas after work and was then exiting Podge’s Service Station near the intersection by turning left out of Podge’s parking lot to travel north on Logan Street. In order to turn left onto northbound Logan, Bonsack had to cross two lanes of southbound traffic. Because traffic was heavy at the time, Bonsack sat for 2-3 minutes waiting for a break in traffic in order to exit.

According to Bonsack, an unidentified man in a red truck came to a stop in the southbound lane closest to Podge’s and left a gap between his truck and the two cars in front of him that were stopped at the red light at the intersection. The driver of the red truck waved Bonsack through. Bonsack proceeded slowly, but Wiggins’ car crashed into the front of Bonsack’s car at that moment.

Wiggins was 15 at the time of the accident and was driving on a driver’s permit. Her mother was in the passenger seat. Wiggins was approaching the traffic light at the intersection and noted that it was red in her direction. She was applying her brakes when Bonsack’s car came out into her lane, resulting in the crash. Wiggins had testified that she was “going the speed limit or under “’cause it was a stop light.” She estimated that she was traveling at 20 mph or less. The airbags in Wiggins’s vehicle did not deploy on impact.

Wiggins said that the driver of the red truck did make a waving gesture immediately before the impact. She also said that she noticed the wave and then the crash was “very, very fast. Like, almost instantly.” Wiggins also testified that although she saw the defendant’s car before impact, there was nothing she could do to avoid the crash. She said the impact was hard. Wiggins also testified that she thought the driver of the red truck was at fault for the accident by waving the defendant into traffic. She also said it was the defendant’s fault for trusting the driver of the red truck and not relying on her own driver’s instincts.

Bonsack said she could not see into the plaintiff’s lane, but she nevertheless tried to turn based on the waving gesture of the driver of the red truck. She estimated that she was going 5-10 mph when the crash occurred. Wiggins refused medical treatment at the scene. She later experienced sharp pains in her neck, headaches and lower back pain.

She went to see a chiropractor in West Frankfort. The first treatment she had was on Feb. 29, 2008, some weeks after the crash. The chiropractor testified at trial that he had treated Wiggins 70 times between February 2008 and June 2010. The doctor also testified that it was normal for young people to wait months before seeking medical treatment due to their misguided belief that pain will simply go away.

Bonsack offered no medical expert testimony at the trial. At the close of all evidence, the trial judge directed a verdict for plaintiff finding defendant was negligently operating her car at the time of the crash and that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of the crash, but denied plaintiff’s motion for directed verdict on liability. In light of the directed verdict, the trial judge refused to instruct the jury on defendant’s defense that the unknown man in the red truck was the sole proximate cause of the collision. The trial court did instruct the jury on defendant’s other affirmative defense, contributory negligence.

The jury returned a general verdict in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff Wiggins moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or in the alternative, a new trial. The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion and entered judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed.

The first issue was whether it was error to deny plaintiff judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The plaintiff argued that the judgment should be entered finding defendant liable because the evidence when viewed in the light most favorable to defendant so overwhelmingly favored plaintiff that the verdict for defendant could not stand. The appellate court agreed.

The defendant at trial admitted she could not see the lane next to the red truck and never saw plaintiff’s car prior to the impact. While Bonsack thought the man in the red truck was mainly at fault, she admitted that she was also at fault for trusting the man in the red truck to tell her when it was clear to go even though she could not see into the lane of oncoming southbound traffic in which the plaintiff was traveling. Furthermore, Bonsack admitted that Wiggins did nothing to cause the collision.

The police officer who came to the scene after the crash stated that in Illinois when a driver is about to enter a roadway from a private drive or alley, the driver has a duty to yield the right-of-way to vehicles already traveling on the roadway. Therefore, the defendant Bonsack had a duty to yield the right-of-way, which she did not do.

In addition, since plaintiff was approaching the red light at the intersection, there was no evidence that she was speeding. Plaintiff was already slowing down and was braking before the impact.

The trial judge entered a directed verdict specifically finding Bonsack at fault. Although the defendant argued that plaintiff could be held contributorily negligent for the crash, the appellate court found that there was no factual basis to show that Wiggins had any fault or was negligent in causing the crash. Therefore, again the appellate court found that the trial judge erred in giving defendant’s proffered contributory negligent instruction to the jury.

The defendant further also argued that there was no evidence that Wiggins was injured in the crash. There was an 87-day delay in Wiggins’s treatment, but the defendant was not able to deflect the notion that plaintiff’s injuries were caused from the crash.

Accordingly, the appellate court found that the record was clear that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the accident and plaintiff was not contributorily negligent, therefore the case was reversed and remanded with directions to enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff on the issue of liability and to hold a new trial on plaintiff’s damages.

Tabitha Wiggins v. Sheila Bonsack, 2014 IL App (5th) 130123 (Aug. 26, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile accident cases, intersection car crash cases, bicycle accident cases, motorcycle accident cases and truck accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Gresham, Beverly, Washington Heights, Roseland, Pullman, Chatham, Burnside, Calumet Heights, Grand Crossing, Jackson Park, South Shore, South Chicago, East Side, Lake Calumet, Old Town, Roscoe Village, Lincoln Square, Albany Park, Edgebrook, Sauganash, West Ridge, Rosehill, Ravenswood), Blue Island, Palos Heights, LaGrange Park, LaGrange, Morton Grove, Matteson, Lyons and Hinsdale, Ill.

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