(Paralegal) Musician Injured By Guitar Strap Caught In Cab Door: Who Is At Fault?

Case Study:

A rising classical-music star is running late for a performance. He is carrying his guitar with him. Hailing a cab he arrives at the Symphonic Hall. Quickly paying the driver, he grabs the strap of the guitar case and starts to exit the cab. The strap catches on the door, which slams shut. The cab immediately moves on to the next fare. The guitarist is yanked off his feet and dragged half a block, still holding the strap of the guitar case. The strap breaks, the cab keeps going, and the guitarist is hit by another car. With two badly broken arms, one broken leg, few broken ribs, and a concussion, he is taken to the hospital. Who is liable for the musician’s injuries? The cab driver, the second driver, both, or neither? Discuss your answer, assuming jurisdiction in Illinois.

Analysis: 

The musician has grounds for a personal injury suit against both drivers, who appear to both be negligent given the few details we have at hand to review. The musician, if his instrument is destroyed or damaged, may be able to recover for it, as well being awarded damages to cover pain and suffering, loss of wages / potential future income, medical and doctor bills, medication and rehabilitation expenses (if any), and so forth. Both drivers were irresponsible (I find it difficult to comprehend how a reasonably alert driver would fail to notice and avoid running over a grown man being dragged by a taxi cab along the street; there are probably details I am not privy to that would explain how that happened).

The taxi driver owed the musician a duty of care, which he failed to meet adequately. The taxi driver’s lack of care was the proximate cause of the musician’s initial injuries, and the reason he was still in the roadway where the second vehicle could hit him, hence he was negligent. See also Houston Transit Co. v. Zimmerman, 200 S.W.2d 848 (Texas Court of Civil Appeals, 1947), where bus driver was not relieved of responsibility for his negligence after a passing truck struck two minors who had just exited the bus) and compare it with Hibma v. Odegaard, 769 F. 2d 1147 (United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, July 30, 1985), which states “while intentional tortfeasor must exercise utmost caution to prevent his victim from sustaining further harm, he remains insulated from injuries caused by wholly unforeseen accidents occurring without his agency.”

The taxi driver is responsible for his part in the musician’s injuries and damage to his instrument (if any). He is not likely to be considered responsible for injuries that the second vehicle caused independently, but for placing the musician into the path of the second vehicle.

There are a number of Illinois-based taxi-related cases where cab drivers failed to park in areas where it was safe for passengers to disembark, or where cab drivers attempted to drive off when passengers had clothing caught in cab doors. Generally, the passenger who alleges injury prevails.

The second driver is not relieved of his duty of care not to drive over pedestrians, erect, supine or otherwise in the roadway where they do not belong, but s/he did not cause the initial affront to the musician and should not be held liable for the brunt of his injuries. (The second driver’s lawyer can argue that the second driver would not have had a chance to strike the musician if the cab driver had not initially dragged him down the street where he landed in the second driver’s vehicle’s path.)

The second driver is not likely to escape being sued. (As an example, a good driver can nevertheless be involved in an accident if another car pushes his or her car into an existing collision. Georgia law will still cite that driver with “following too closely”: it is a quirk of Georgia law that if you rear-end another car, even if you yourself were at a dead stop and are rear-ended and pushed forward, you are liable.) The second driver still injured the musician, and even if fault is slightly mitigated because of the taxi driver’s negligence, the second driver still has to be held responsible for not adequately anticipating potential road hazards–and perhaps for Illinois’ version of “following too closely”–as s/he failed to see the musician in the roadway until it was too late.

One caveat: “If you have been involved in a serious Chicago car accident with a taxi driver, you may encounter problems receiving fair and full compensation for your injuries. Chicago cab companies are structured in such a way so as to allow recovery from only the specific cab and the cab driver involved in the accident. The City of Chicago mandates that taxi cab drivers carry minimum liability policies of $350,000. […] Many consumers […] mistakenly identify individual drivers as employees of companies such as Yellow Cab and Checker. In reality, the cab entities are structured so that these individual drivers are the only party from which an injured individual may seek recovery. This can have devastating practical effects for individuals that suffer serious or permanent injuries as the result of taxicab driver negligence.” [Various sources: http://www.josephklest.com/2010/06/taxicab_related_chicago_car_ac.html, http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/bacp/publicvehicleinfo/medallionowners/medallionlicenseholderrulesregsf20120626.pdf, http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bacp/supp_info/rules_and_regulations.html, all retrieved January 24, 2013.]

The musician’s lawyer(s) will be likely to cite the following:

1. Warner Klettke v. Checker Cab Company, Inc. and Joseph Weglarz, 26 Ill.App.2d 341 (June 29, 1960).

Weglarz, a cab driver for Checker, struck pedestrian Klettke and injured him as he was crossing the street. “The Appellate Court, Dempsey, P. J., held that evidence was sufficient to take to jury questions whether defendant driver had been negligent, whether plaintiff had been contributorily negligent, and whether plaintiff had signed release while capable of comprehending its effect. Affirmed. In action by pedestrian against taxicab company and driver for injuries sustained when pedestrian was struck in crosswalk, evidence was sufficient to support finding that driver had been negligent.”

2. Lillian De Bello v. Checker Cab Company, Inc., 8 Ill.App.3d 401 (Oct. 20, 1972).

De Bello caught her pantyhose on a protruding screw sticking up from a door moulding strip in a taxi cab. In fighting the suit, the cab driver and Checker made much of De Bello’s size (over 200 pounds) and denied responsibility for her injury, or denied negligence for the cab driver’s choice of where she was dropped off (right in front of an open manhole, which allegedly made her feel dizzy and fall down as she was struggling with her snagged stockings). “Whether plaintiff fell because her stocking was enmeshed on the screw, resulting in her being off-balance with one foot pinned under her, or whether she fell because, while trying to extricate her stocking from the screw, she became dizzy upon seeing a manhole in front of her, makes no difference. In either case, she was stuck on the screw before and as she fell, thus clearly establishing that fact as a proximate cause of her fall. Nor should it be of any assistance to defendant to argue that it is relieved of liability because plaintiff became dizzy upon seeing a manhole as her only place of exit from the cab; and this in view of the general rule that a carrier must furnish a safe place for a passenger to alight from its vehicle (Thomason v. Chicago Motor Coach Co., 292 Ill.App. 104, 113, 10 N.E.2d 714, 718).”

3. Angela Shanowat, as Administratrix of the Estate of Elizabeth Shanowat, Deceased, and Beverly Shanowat, a minor v. Checker Cab Company, Inc., 48 Ill.App.2d 81 (April 22, 1964).

Taxi driver parked across the street from passengers’ destination, and while their mother was distracted by paying the fare, the cab driver opened the cab door and two minor children dashed out into the road and were struck by a car, killing one and severely injuring the other. The court asserted that the cab driver had a “duty of care” to his passengers to ensure they reached their destination safely, and he was therefore negligent. “The Superior Court, Cook County, Arthur A. Sullivan, J.,entered judgment against the company, and it appealed. The Appellate Court, Drucker, J., held that relation of carrier and passengers still existed when girls were discharged into street so that driver of taxicab was bound to exercise highest degree of care, and that question whether driver of taxicab discharged girls in a reasonably safe place for alighting was for the jury, and that question whether negligence of driver of taxicab in discharging the girls in an unreasonably safe place was proximate cause of accident was or jury.”

(Court cited 1 In 4 Blashfield, Cyclopedia of Automobile Law and Practice, § 2142, pp. 18-19: “The relation ordinarily continues until the passenger has reached his destination and has alighted in safety or has had a reasonable opportunity to do so, as well as to leave the carrier’s premises or the place at which he alights. However, with regard to the last mentioned qualification concerning a passenger’s opportunity to leave there is ample authority for the view […] that a person ceases to be a passenger as soon as he safely steps from the vehicle into the street or highway at a reasonably safe and proper place. […] The traveled portion of the street or highway, however, under present-day conditions can hardly be characterized as a place of safety, and a passenger deposited in the traveled portion and injured as a consequence may hold the carrier liable.”)

4. Pauline Blitz v. Checker Cab Company, Inc., 8 Ill.App.3d 361 (Oct. 31, 1972).

Cab driver asserts there was a “use seat belts” sign in his cab, but is not relieved of responsibility for injuries to passenger who failed to buckle up when his careless driving and braking caused her injury. “Plaintiff, Pauline Blitz, testified on her own behalf as follows: On July 18, 1966 plaintiff was 77 years old. At 4:50 P.M. on that date, after shopping in the Loop area of Chicago, she hailed a cab near Michigan Avenue and Washington. A Checker cab stopped three feet from the curb. Plaintiff opened the rear door, entered the cab and gave her destination as Michael Reese Hospital, where her husband was a patient. As she entered the cab, plaintiff saw neither seat belts nor signs referring to the presence of seat belts. The driver made no mention of the presence of seat belts. As the cab neared the hospital, it suddenly made a sharp turn and a quick stop. As a result, plaintiff was thrown to the floor and sustained a fractured hip. The driver continued on to the hospital and secured medical attention for plaintiff. We hold that, as a matter of law, plaintiff’s failure to fasten her seat belt did not constitute contributory negligence.”

5. Porfirio Diaz v. Chicago Transit Authority, 174 Ill.App.3d 396 (Aug. 26, 1988).

Elderly, hearing-impaired man who does not speak English is seriously injured when bus driver appears to wave him on into oncoming traffic. Bus itself was blocking Diaz’s view of the roadway. “Bus passenger brought action against city transit authority to recover damages for personal injuries he sustained when struck by car after having alighted from bus [in the middle of a block]. […] The CTA bus driver, Gant Kacija, was negligent in allowing Diaz to alight from the CTA bus at other than a normal bus stop and that as a result, Diaz was struck by defendant [Robert] Ward’s car.”

6. Paul Shatkus v. Checker Taxi Company, Inc., 111 Ill.App.2d 1 (Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, June 6,1969).

Even though Shatkus intended to rob the cab driver, his injuries were still considered the taxi driver’s fault. “Plaintiff brought this action in the Circuit Court of Cook County seeking damages from the Checker Taxi Company for injuries sustained when attempting to board a cab of the defendant. He claims that while he was entering defendant’s taxi cab, it started into motion before he was safely inside and failed to stop when its driver knew, or should have known, that he was being dragged down the street by the cab. The defendant admitted operation of the cab but denied that a carrier-passenger relationship existed, contending that plaintiff attempted to enter said taxi cab for the purpose of committing an assault and inflicting bodily harm upon the driver of the cab. […] [A witness, Jerry Koon, spotted Shatkus in distress,] immediately went to his aid and discovered that he was unconscious and there was blood on his face. Koon parked his car in the street so as to protect the unconscious plaintiff from the oncoming traffic and stayed at the scene of the accident until the police arrived and he then gave them a statement.”

Counter-arguments musician’s lawyer should watch out for:

1. Aforementioned Hibma v. Odegaard, 769 F. 2d 1147 (1985).

2. Russell Nilsson v. Checker Cab Company, Inc., 4 Ill.App.3d 718 (Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Second Division, April 20, 1972).

“The Appellate Court, Leighton, J., held that evidence would support finding by trial judge that plaintiff who was passenger in one of defendant’s taxicabs and who was injured in accident involving taxicab and another automobile did not sustain burden of showing that defendant taxi company was negligent. Affirmed.
Consistent with mode of conveyance and its practical operation, taxi company owed passenger duty to use highest degree of care in transporting him to his destination.”

Caveat: “A carrier is liable to its passenger only for injuries which are caused by its negligence and is not liable for injuries which result from cause beyond its control; mere fact that there is an accident which injures the passenger does not authorize a presumption that carrier was negligent.”

Taxi company prevailed in this case.

3. Rosalie Borus v. Yellow Cab Company and Thomas Jamison, 52 Ill.App.3d 194 (Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division, Aug. 18, 1977).

“Taxicab passenger brought action against cab company and cabdriver for damages for injuries suffered when she allegedly was dragged some distance by defendants’ taxi. […] On June 29, 1972 the plaintiff was injured on Jackson Boulevard near the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Subsequently she filed suit against Thomas Jamison, a taxicab driver, and Yellow Cab Company, his employer, alleging that due to the driver’s negligence she was dragged by the cab when her coat was caught in the door. […] The basic issue in this case is whether the plaintiff’s inadvertent closing of a taxicab door on her coat can be held to be contributory negligence as a matter of law thus barring her suit against the defendants for injuries suffered when she allegedly was dragged some distance by the defendants’ taxi. We hold that, particularly under the facts of this case, the question is one for jury determination and reverse the trial court’s entry of summary judgment for the defendants on this issue.”

Taxi company initially prevailed, citing “contributory negligence.” Musician could be accused of the same thing if he was the one who is seen to have shut the door on his guitar strap, rather than the strap catching on the door right before the cab moved forward and momentum swung the cab’s door shut on the strap.

4. John T. Talbott v. Yellow Cab Company of D.C., 121 A.2d 262 (Municipal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, March 8, 1956).

Much like Borus, Talbott considered passenger error as mitigating. “The Municipal Court of Appeals, Quinn, J., held that where plaintiff alighted safely from defendant’s taxicab but closed door on lower part of his overcoat and was dragged away, even if plaintiff’s negligence was not the sole cause of the accident it contributed directly and proximately to the accident, and precluded recovery for the injury. […] When the driver started to drive off after hearing the door ‘slam,’ plaintiff realized his coat was caught, and as he was being pulled to the ground he ‘hollered’ to the driver but nevertheless was dragged on his left side for approximately ten feet. No part of the cab came in contact with him. The driver stopped and offered his assistance, but plaintiff, who was in a dazed condition, got up and walked the remaining block and a half to his home unassisted. The next day plaintiff visited a physician and was treated for injuries he claimed to have suffered as a result of the accident.”

Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion (IRAC):

Issue: Was taxi cab driver negligent when he failed to notice the musician was being dragged along by the guitar strap behind his cab?

Most precedent would hold the cab driver liable, as it is considered a “duty of care” of the driver to deliver passengers safely.

Rule: “Negligence is a duty of care which is owed by one to another followed by a breach of that duty which proximately causes harm” (Guay et al, 2013).

Application: Drivers’ inadequate attention both responsible for injuries to musician, with the taxi driver taking most of the blame for contributing to the situation that had the musician in the roadway where the second vehicle struck him. Had the taxi driver not dragged the musician down the street in the first place, the second vehicle would not have hit him, but the second driver is not relieved of his or her duty to drive safely and carefully enough to avoid any unexpected hazards in the roadway.

Conclusion: Based on analysis of available data and examining relevant Illinois-area cases, both drivers should be found negligent, with the taxi driver being more so (perhaps even considered reckless). The second driver may also consider naming the taxi driver in a separate suit, alleging that the initial injury to the musician is what caused the man to be in the second vehicle’s path in the roadway.

Whereas this quote refers mostly to business-related fraud, the reasoning applies to personal injuries rather than solely financial losses: “Under Illinois law, plaintiff may recover economic losses through tort action: (1) where plaintiff sustained personal injury or property damage resulting from tortious event; (2) where plaintiff’s damages are proximately caused by defendant’s intentional, false representation; and (3) where plaintiff’s damages are proximately caused by negligent misrepresentation by defendant in business of supplying information for guidance of others in their business transactions” (First Magnus Financial Corporation v. Leszek Dobrowski a/k/a Marek Maka, 387 F.Supp.2d 786 (United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division, June 2, 2005)).

References:

George E. Guay III & Robert Cummins, Tort Law for Paralegals, (2010). Retrieved from http://digitalbookshelf.southuniversity.edu/#/books/0558542700/pages/48710147 (January 25, 2013).

Devine, Joseph. (2010, January 19). Establishing Fault in Car Accidents – Tort Law. Retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/?Establishing-Fault-in-Car-Accidents—Tort-Law&id=3604438

S.H.A. ch. 70, § 1.

Klettke v. Checker Cab Company, Inc. et al, 26 Ill.App.2d 341 (1960).

Thomason v. Chicago Motor Coach Co., 292 Ill.App. 104, 113, 10 N.E.2d 714, 718.

Houston Transit Co. v. Zimmerman, 200 S.W.2d 848 (Texas Court of Civil Appeals, 1947). [Headnote: “A bus driver discharged two children about five feet from the curb with a large puddle blocking their access to the sidewalk. The children passed in front of the bus and were hit by a passing truck. The court there held that the bus company was negligent and that its negligence was not excused by an intervening cause, i.e., the negligence of the truck driver. There also the question of whether the children were discharged in a safe place was held to be a question of fact for the jury.]

Rotheli v. Chicago Transit Authority, 7 Ill.2d 172, 130 N.E.2d 172. [Headnote: Public vehicles’ drivers–including busses and taxis–are still bound to highest degree of care toward passengers.]

De Bello v. Checker Cab Company, Inc., 8 Ill.App.3d 401 (1972).

Houston Transit Co. v. Zimmerman, 200 S.W.2d 848 (Texas Court of Civil Appeals, 1947).

Diaz v. Chicago Transit Authority, 174 Ill.App.3d 396 (1988).

Blitz v. Checker Cab Company, Inc., 8 Ill.App.3d 361 (1972).

Shanowat v. Checker Cab Company, Inc., 48 Ill.App.2d 81 (1964). [Headnote: “Where driver of taxicab double-parked in street and discharged children into street, relation of carrier and passengers still existed, and driver accordingly was still bound to exercise highest degree of care.”]

Hibma v. Odegaard, 769 F. 2d 1147 (1985).

Blumenfeld v. Stuppi, 921 F. 2d 116 (1990).

Nilsson v. Checker Cab Company, Inc., 4 Ill.App.3d 718 (1972).

Thomas v. Yellow Cab Co., 344 N.E.2d 505, 508, Ill.App. 1 Dist.(Mar 15, 1976).

Loring v. Yellow Cab Co. 337 N.E.2d 428, 431, Ill.App. 1 Dist. (Oct 22, 1975).

Borus v. Yellow Cab Company et al, 52 Ill.App.3d 194 (1977).

Talbott v. Yellow Cab Company of D.C., 121 A.2d 262 (1956).

First Magnus Financial Corporation v. Dobrowski, 387 F.Supp.2d 786 (2005).

 

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