998 F.2d 499 (7th Cir. 1993), 92-1705, Dolder v. Martinton Tp.

Docket Nº:92-1705.
Citation:998 F.2d 499
Party Name:Anne DOLDER, Special Administratrix of the Estate of Lawrence Dolder, III, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. MARTINTON TOWNSHIP, a municipal corporation, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:July 08, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 499

998 F.2d 499 (7th Cir. 1993)

Anne DOLDER, Special Administratrix of the Estate of

Lawrence Dolder, III, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,


MARTINTON TOWNSHIP, a municipal corporation, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 92-1705.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 8, 1993

Argued Nov. 13, 1992.

Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing

In Banc Denied Aug. 26, 1993.

Page 500

Donald A. Shapiro, Chicago, IL (argued), Richard Doyle, Doyle & Associates, Danville, IL, for plaintiff-appellee.

Sarah Hansen Sotos, Elizabeth A. Knight (argued), Jenna L. Schoeneman, Knight, Hoppe, Fanning & Knight, Des Plaines, IL, Kathryn James Anderlik, Judge & James, Park Ridge, IL, for defendant-appellant.

Before CUMMINGS and COFFEY, Circuit Judges, and WOOD, Jr., Senior Circuit Judge.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

At approximately 9:00 p.m., May 14, 1986, Richard Schoonveld drove a motorcycle off Pittwood Road in Martinton Township, Illinois ("Martinton" or "Township"), and struck a parked trailer. The violent impact of the crash caused the instant death of Lawrence Dolder, III ("decedent"), the passenger riding on the back of Schoonveld's cycle. Schoonveld survived. Dolder's widow, Anne, as administratrix of her husband's estate, sued Martinton Township under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, Ill.Rev.Stat. Ch. 70, § 1, alleging negligence in the Township's maintenance of Pittwood Road and in its failure to post sufficient warnings of the curve in the road which Schoonveld missed, causing the accident. This diversity action was tried before a jury, resulting in a $900,000 verdict for the plaintiff, reduced to $315,000 by a finding of 65% negligence on the part of the decedent. The Township argued that both the decedent and Schoonveld were intoxicated at the time of the accident and their impairment, not the condition of Pittwood Road, was the proximate cause of the accident. On March 8, 1991, three days after the verdict was rendered, the district court entered an order, sua sponte, upholding the jury's finding of liability against Martinton, but set aside the jury's comparative negligence verdict. The court explained that

"[i]t is painfully clear to me that I was in error in allowing the question of decedent's contributory negligence to go to the jury for its consideration.... [T]he trial was tainted by the testimony concerning Schoonveld's drinking.... Under the test in Pedrick v. Peoria & Eastern Illinois Railroad, 37 Ill.2d 494, 229 N.E.2d 504 (1967) there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Schoonveld was intoxicated at the time of the occurrence.... The decedent's intoxication was only relevant on the issue of contributory fault if the driver of the motorcycle was also intoxicated. Since there was insufficient evidence

Page 501

to decide that the driver was intoxicated, the plaintiff's motion to exclude the evidence of the decedent's intoxication and to withdraw the question of contributory negligence from the jury should have been granted."

The court, citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(d), which provides that "[n]ot later than ten days after entry of judgment the court of its own initiative may order a new trial for any reason for which it might have granted a new trial on motion of a party," ordered a new trial on the question of damages only. The second trial resulted in a jury verdict of $1,500,000 for the plaintiff. Martinton's post-trial motions were denied.


The district court's March 8 order resulted in an entry of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV") in favor of Dolder on the issue of comparative negligence. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). In diversity cases, state law governs the standard for entry of JNOVs. Trzcinski v. American Cas. Co., 953 F.2d 307, 313 (7th Cir.1992). Under Illinois law, a trial court can override the jury's verdict only when "all the evidence, when viewed in its aspect most favorable to the opponent [of the JNOV motion], so overwhelmingly favors the movant that no contrary verdict based on that evidence could ever stand." Pedrick v. Peoria & Eastern Railroad Company, 37 Ill.2d 494, 229 N.E.2d 504, 513 (1967). We review the district court's decision to enter a JNOV de novo and apply the Pedrick standard to the record evidence. Eastman v. Chicago C. & P.R. Co., 930 F.2d 1173, 1176 (7th...

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