Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of Death Case in Intersection Crash

John E. Mulholland Jr. was alleged to have chosen not to stop at a stop sign while driving on a secondary road. He died when his car crashed into the vehicle driven by Joseph A. Cohen, who was driving on the intersecting preferential highway.

As the trial judge was persuaded that Mulholland’s conduct was the sole proximate cause of the crash, summary judgment brought by Cohen was granted. That was the order in a lawsuit brought by Mulholland’s daughter against Cohen. Cohen was reportedly talking on his cellphone while driving down a steep grade at 50-55 mph on Route 3, south of Chester, Ill. He was driving a Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck that was towing an 18-foot trailer loaded with a Bobcat T-190 skid-steer. According to Cohen, his vehicle, trailer and skid-steer weighed around 14,000 lbs.

Mulholland was driving a Chevrolet S10 pickup truck on Water Street headed toward the intersection with Route 3. There was a stop sign facing him at the intersection. Cohen did not have a stop sign of any kind.

When Cohen realized that the Chevrolet S10 pickup approaching on his left was not going to stop, he slammed on his brakes and tried to avoid a collision by swerving. Because of obstructions on the right side of Route 3, Cohen swerved to the left. Eight feet before the collision, Cohen saw that Mulholland was slumped over toward the passenger side of his vehicle.

Ironically, Cohen’s accident reconstruction expert testified at deposition that the collision would have been avoided if Cohen had stayed in his own lane of traffic. Mulholland’s daughter appealed the summary judgment order.

Disagreeing “with the trial court’s conclusion that the decedent’s failure to stop at the Water Street stop sign is the sole proximate cause of the collision” – and concluding there were genuine factual disputes “about whether Cohen approached the intersection with due care” – the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the summary judgment order.

According to the Illinois Appellate Court decision, the Illinois Vehicle Code section that applies in this case is Section 11-904(b) states:

“Every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop intersection indicated by a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the cross-walk on the near side of the intersection, or if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering the intersection. After having stopped, the driver shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which has entered the intersection from another roadway or which is approaching . . .” 625 ILCS 5/11-904(b).

Although a driver on a preferential road has the right-of-way, and has the right to expect the driver from the secondary roadway with the stop sign will obey that stop sign and stop, the right to proceed into the intersection is not an absolute. Twait v. Olson, 104 Ill.App.3d 191 (1982).

The preferential driver “has a duty to keep a proper lookout, observe due care in approaching and crossing intersections and drive as a prudent person would to avoid a collision when danger is discovered or, by the exercise of reasonable care should have been discovered.” Johnson v. May, 223 Ill.App.3d 477 (1992).

The trial judge relied on an appellate court decision for the authority that the sole proximate cause was the decedent’s failure to stop and thus summary judgment for Cohen was proper. The appeals panel distinguished that case, Salo v. Seinghurse, 181 Ill.App.3d 641 (1989).

The court found that the Salo case was procedurally and factually distinguishable from the case here. In this case, Cohen saw the decedent’s truck well before the intersection. Cohen saw the decedent’s truck before it reached the Water Street stop sign and then he saw the truck enter Route 3. Cohen’s vehicle had not yet reached the intersection when the decedent entered the intersection and thus had some time to react and take evasive action.

The Illinois Appellate Court found that there are factual issues remaining concerning how Cohen approached the intersection and whether his speed was excessive in light of the combined weight of the vehicle and the trailer he was driving. The court also found that there is a factual issue about whether Cohen’s attention was compromised by the fact that he was talking on his cell phone as he approached the intersection. Additionally, the court found that there is a factual issue about Cohen’s evasive maneuver. Cohen made a conscious choice to steer his vehicle to the left, toward the decedent’s truck, rather than away from the decedent’s truck. Cohen’s own expert provided an opinion that if he had stayed within his lane while applying his brakes, the collision would not have occurred.

In short, the appellate court found that at this stage of the case, there are factual issues about whether Cohen approached the intersection with due care. The trier of fact should have the opportunity to consider these factual issues. In general, more than one negligent act can create a proximate cause of an injury. Long v. Friesland, 178 Ill.App.3d 42 (1988).

Furthermore, the court, in referring back to the Salo case, stated that it does not hold that a driver on a preferential road is always faultless.

“The authorities agreed that a driver on a preferential highway does not have an absolute or unqualified right of way that can be asserted regardless of circumstances, distances or speed. Such a driver may not plunge blindly ahead in reliance upon an assumption that the other motorist will obey the law and yield the right-of-way, nor may he heedlessly proceed into obvious danger. The Illinois decisions in applying this rule, have consistently held that it is the function of the jury to determine whether the judgment of the driver on the preferential highway conformed to the standards of the reasonable and prudent.” Conner v. McGrew, 32 Ill.App.2d 214 (1961).

Although Cohen had the right to expect the decedent would obey the stop sign, he had his own duty “to keep a proper lookout, observe due care in approaching and crossing intersections and drive as a prudent person would do to avoid a collision when danger is discovered or, by the exercise of reasonable care should have been discovered.” Johnson, 223 Ill.App.3d at 484.

Accordingly, since the Illinois Appellate Court found that there are material factual issues still in dispute as to whether Cohen’s actions and inactions contributed causally to this crash, the summary judgment order by the trial judge is reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

Griffin v. Cohen, 2015 IL App (5th) 140408 (Oct. 1, 2015).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling truck accident crashes, car accident crash cases, bicycle accident cases, motorcycle accident cases, pedestrian accident cases and premises liability lawsuits for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Western Springs, Countryside, Justice, Hickory Hills, Forest Park, Orland Park, Robbins, Alsip, Worth, Riverdale, Orland Park, Chicago (Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Irving Park, Koreatown, Pulaski Park, Roscoe Village, Sauganash, Sheffield, South Shore, Gold Coast, Gladstone Park, Diversey Harbor, Buena Park, Belmont Gardens, Back of the Yards, Armitage, Archer Heights, Little Italy, the Loop, Loyola Park, Little Village, Marquette Park, Washington Heights, Beverly, Pullman, Burnside, Chatham, Washington Park, Pilsen, Chinatown, Logan Square), Des Plaines and Harwood Heights, Ill.

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