SmithAmundsen Commercial Transportation partner Jamie Lane recently tried a case to verdict with his partner, Margaret Firnstein, in Federal Court in the Northern District of Illinois. Through well-known trucking expert, Lew Grill, plaintiff attempted to introduce multiple opinions including that the defendant truck driver operated his truck with an extreme violation of the standard of care, that the defendant truck driver fell asleep in violation of FMCSR 392.3, that the motor carrier failed to terminate the driver after the incident, and that truck drivers have a “higher degree of safe driving” and “greater driver performance duties in Illinois.” Careful foresight during the discovery and Motions in Limine stages resulted in the majority of Grill’s opinions being barred or limited, resulting in a successful defense result of a rear end accident.
Every driver in Illinois owes the same statutory duty to exercise due care, regardless of the size of the vehicle, and that is what the jury was to consider. 625 ILCS 5/11-1003.1 and Moore v. Swoboda, 213 Ill. App. 3d 217, 235-36 (4th Dist. 1991). Through Grill, plaintiff attempted to instruct the jury that motor carriers and their drivers have a higher duty in Illinois than the average motorist putting the plaintiff and defendant on an uneven battlefield. A thorough deposition of Grill allowed the defense to minimize Grill’s opinions at trial.
- First, the court barred Grill from testifying that the defendant failed to exercise due care, as he could not testify to legal conclusions that would determine the case, and was limited to only explaining the procedures that a commercial truck driver should follow.
- Second, Grill was barred from discussing any disciplinary measures imposed on the truck driver by the motor carrier following the incident or or any evidence that the Illinois Department of Transportation found pertaining to the truck driver's violation of FMCSR 393.3 because of a lack of foundation and relevancy.
- Third, Grill was not permitted to opine that the truck driver fell asleep as he failed to lay adequate bases, qualification or foundation for the opinion.
- Fourth, on the duty of care question, Grill was barred from improperly instructing the jury on the legal standard of care under Illinois law. Based on Grill’s proposed opinions, Plaintiff sought to introduce a truck driver negligence instruction suggesting that the jury consider the defendant’s special knowledge and skill as a tractor-trailer driver when determining whether the defendant was negligent. Plaintiff contended that the truck driver negligence instruction directed the jury to take the special knowledge and skill possessed by professional semi drivers into account only in order to determine whether the defendant met the standard of care. Consistent with defense objections, the trial court found that although the truck driver negligence instruction was not incorrect, the jury could misinterpret the instruction as imposing a higher standard of care on tractor-trailer drivers than that applied to other drivers in the State of Illinois and denied the instruction. Instead, the court instructed the jury that it was the duty of each party to use ordinary and reasonable care in the operation of their vehicles.
Jamie’s experience reminds us that strategic planning and execution matter. A consistent and thorough plan from discovery through trial allowed him to pin in expert Grill. Moreover, in the Northern District of Illinois, federal court once again proves to be a preferred venue.