Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 2000 by TranSafety, Inc.
June, 2000
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Illinois Appeal Court Grants Widow Right to New Trial for Husband's Death in a Work Zone
Originally published in the April 1987 TranSafety Reporter

(This summary of a legal case related to highway work zone safety is reproduced from the April 1987 (Volume V, No. 4) issue of the TranSafety Reporter, published and edited by Roy W. Anderson, P.E. To find technical articles from the Reporter on work zone topics, please check on-line editions of the "Road Management & Engineering Journal" at this web site.)

On April 15, 1986 an Illinois Court of Appeal reversed a lower court's judgment and allowed a widow the right to a new trial. She had brought a suit of negligence for the death of her husband who was a construction worker in a work zone when he was struck by a drunk driver.

Celeste DiBenedetto brought wrongful death action against the County of DuPage, Ronald Dold, County Superintendent of Highways, and Anthony Grzemski, resident engineer of the construction project, for the death of her husband, Guerino DiBenedetto. She alleged that the defendants were negligent by failing to adequately supervise and control traffic at the construction site.

DiBenedetto was killed on April 10, 1979 while working with a crew installing storm sewers on the west side of Washington Street in DuPage County. An automobile driven by Susan Daugaard, who was intoxicated, approached the construction site on Washington Street from the south at speeds estimated to be from 50 to 85 mph. She lost control of her vehicle and struck a sewer pipe which crushed DiBenedetto.

At the accident site, the southbound traffic lane was blocked by piles of dirt and pipe, and by a backhoe at which DiBenedetto and others were working. Daugaard was in the north-bound lane, but swerved from it into the work zone which was delineated by a tapering row of Type I (saw horse) barricades along the west and center portions of the road. The car was driven through the barricades and into the work zone.

The central questions for the Court were whether the road in question was closed and whether or not the proper barricades had been erected. The Court found that the road was closed "to all but local traffic."

The DuPage County authorities contended that Daugaard's negligent driving was the sole proximate cause of DiBenedetto's death. The Appeal Court found too many inconsistencies in the testimony at trial and concluded that the lower court's verdict was in error. Celeste DiBenedetto contended that the defendants had changed their answers after her case was rested. The Appeal Court agreed.

The trial demonstrated that a closed road needed to be barricaded with Type III barricades, but the county and the engineers used discretionary judgment as their defense. The northern end of the construction site was closed with such barricades, but the southern end, for a distance of 1,000 feet, was delineated by Type I barricades. The intoxicated driver passed four "Road Construction" signs before she lost control and drove into the work zone.

At trial, Grzemski, the resident engineer, testified that the road was closed in the proper places and in accordance with the state MUTCD. However, he also testified that he had not checked the manual, but considered the Type I devices to be adequate and the Type III barricades unnecessary.

The Appeal Court reversed the lower court's verdict because, as it wrote, "If the jury, in consideration of the evidence, had believed that Type III barricades were required . . . the jury might have a different view of the question. We think permitting the defendants to change their answer unfairly affected resolution of that issue."

Finally, the Court of Appeal also found the fact that Daugaard had pleaded guilty to reckless homicide should not be admitted on retrial. It felt that such an admission would not supply any new facts for the jury. The question for the new trial, then, would be whether the county had adequately protected the work zone at the time of the accident.

[DiBenedetto v. County of DuPage 491 N.E.2d 13 Ill.App.2 Dist. 1986]

Patrick F. Bradley, Chicago (312-236-3020) represented Celeste DiBenedetto.

Copyright © 2000 by TranSafety, Inc.

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