Sole Proximate Cause was significantly weakened when the Illinois Appellate Court, Fifth District, ruled that a lower court erred in granting summary judgment for defendants in a fatal automobile accident. The lower court granted summary judgment in finding that the sole proximate cause of the accident was decedent’s failure to stop at a stop sign. However, the Fifth District Appellate Court found that factual issues remained as to how the other driver approached intersection and whether his speed was excessive in light of the combined weight of his vehicle and a trailer hauling a Bobcat, as he traveled down a very steep incline. In addition, the Fifth District Appellate Court questioned whether the other driver's attention was compromised as he was talking on a cell phone prior to accident as he approached intersection and whether the other driver's evasive maneuver contributed to accident. Thus, in the Fifth District Appellate Court’s view, factual issues exist as to whether the other driver's actions and inactions contributed causally to this collision.
For transportation companies and any insurance company writing trucking or automobile policies, this ruling opens the proverbial “can of worms” about what constitutes a question of fact relative to the actions or inactions of parties involved in automotive accidents. In an otherwise clear cut case of sole proximate cause – the decedent running a stop sign into a road considered to be the preferential highway – the Appellate ruling potentially opens the door to protracted debates over what factual issues, actions and inactions should be taken into account.
It is important to emphasize that this ruling is precedential in the Fifth District in Southern Illinois and may not necessarily hold precedential value in the other districts. Johnson & Bell will be monitoring this ruling’s effect on plaintiff filings of trucking and automobile accident cases regarding sole proximate cause and what determines issues of fact.