When we get into a train, plane, or cab, we expect that the person operating the vehicle will keep us safe, that it is their duty to us as passengers. Yet at what point do we actually become passengers? Is it when we begin to board the vehicle, or when we are inside and seated in the vehicle? The Chicago personal injury lawsuit of Daphne Franks v. Chicago Carriage Cab Corp., Chicago Elite Cab Corp., et al., 09 L 596, hinges on the question of when a person truly becomes a passenger.
The Cook County injury lawsuit involves 40 year-old Daphne Franks, who was talking to a cab driver in the early hours of the morning. At the time the cab was stopped about eight to ten feet from the curb and was partially blocking the flow of traffic. The plaintiff was leaning both her head and shoulders inside the front passenger window as she carried on a conversation with the cab driver.
Meanwhile, Stephen Nuter was driving down the street towards the stopped cab, which was blocking traffic. Nuter ended up rear-ending the cab while Franks was leaning inside the window. The impact from the car accident caused Franks to hit her head on the cab’s window frame as she fell to the ground. Franks not only lost consciousness, but sustained several cuts to her face and a fractured bone. In order to repair the damage caused by the Chicago car accident, the bartender/waitress underwent two plastic surgeries.
Franks filed a personal injury lawsuit against Nuter and the cab driver and his company. Nuter settled prior to the Chicago personal injury trial, allowing the plaintiff’s attorney to focus exclusively on the cab’s liability. According to the plaintiff, the cab driver was negligent by blocking the flow of traffic. The cab driver should have pulled over to the curb so that the plaintiff could safely talk to the cab driver.
However, the defendants argued that the accident was not caused by the cab’s position, but was due to Nuter’s negligence. Yet if the jury were to find that the cab’s position did contribute to the auto accident, then the defense would need to demonstrate that it did not owe a duty to the plaintiff. The defense argued that at the time of the car accident that the plaintiff was not technically the cab’s passenger yet. Therefore, the defense contended that it did not owe a heightened degree of care to protect the plaintiff.
In Illinois, a common carrier, such as a cab company, owes its passengers the highest duty of care that is practical for that form of conveyance. The idea behind this form of liability is that the passenger must rely completely on the common carrier for his safety and that therefore the carrier owes the passenger a duty to protect him, especially from dangers that he might not have been exposed to but for the carrier. So if Franks was in fact a passenger at the time of the car accident, then the cab company had a duty to protect her from harm.
In order to determine whether or not Franks was a passenger, the Cook County jury was given jury instructions informing them of both the duties of a common carrier, along with guidelines for determining whether or not Franks was a passenger. The Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction stated that a passenger must have the actual or implied consent of the carrier; using this definition a stowaway would not be considered a passenger. Presuming that a person has the carrier’s consent, they become a passenger when they are in the act of boarding or leaving the common carrier. The instruction further states that a person does not need to be in physical contact with the vehicle in order to be considered a passenger.
Using these guidelines, the Chicago jury presumably determined that Franks was in fact a passenger at the time of the auto accident and that the cab driver and cap company breached its duty to protect her. It entered a $220,000 verdict against the defendants, which included:
-$190,000 for past medical expenses;
-$20,000 for disfigurement; and
-$10,000 for lost wages.
However, the verdict was reduced by 50% for the plaintiff’s comparative fault in her injury, resulting in a final verdict of $110,000.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois automobile accidents for individuals and families in and around Chicago, Cook County, and its surrounding areas, including LaGrange, Stone Park, Des Plaines, Prospect Heights, and Orland Park.
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