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High Court Vacates Summary Judgment in Case Alleging Sign Caused Crash – McIlroy v. Gibson’s Apple Orchard

By May 11, 2012July 18th, 2019Auto Accidents

As a St. Louis car crash attorney, I handle cases caused by all kinds of human error. Most of them have to do with errors behind the wheel by one or both drivers, but sometimes, a third party is responsible. That would be true if the wreck was caused or worsened by a poorly maintained road, inadequate signage or signals, obstructions to drivers’ views or other non-driver factors. In McIlroy v. Gibson’s Apple Orchard, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that James McIlroy should be permitted to make the case that his accident was caused by a commercial business sign that obscured drivers’ views. McIlroy was nearly hit by Charlotte Small as he passed the sign for Gibson’s Apple Orchard, lost control of his motorcycle and suffered injuries. The trial court granted summary judgment to Gibson’s, but the Maine Supreme Court reversed, saying a jury could reasonably find the sign caused the crash.
Gibson’s places an eight-foot temporary sign at the corner of Route 2 and North Road in Bethel, Maine, during apple-picking season. On the day of the accident, McIlroy was heading west on Route 2 through the intersection and had the right-of-way; Small was on North Road at the corner with the sign. According to McIlroy’s testimony, Small pulled into his lane of traffic, causing him to lose control of the motorcycle and crash. McIlroy argued that the sign obscured Small’s view of the road, requiring her to pull into the intersection in order to safely turn, and thus proximately caused the accident. Small denied entering the intersection, but McIlroy argued that if this is true, the sign still was a proximate cause because Small was still obliged to move around it while on North Road. McIlroy’s claims against Small herself were dismissed with prejudice, but McIlroy appealed only the summary judgment finding that he could not show proximate cause by the sign.
The Maine Supreme Court sided with him, agreeing that a rational jury could find that the sign proximately caused the accident. His claim was for negligence, the high court said, which requires a finding that Gibson’s breach of a duty owed to McIlroy was a proximate cause of the crash. That is, the breach must have been a substantial factor in bringing about the harm to McIlroy. This is a question of fact, the court said, making it appropriate for a jury to decide unless there’s so little evidence for it that the jury would have to speculate to find causation. The trial court concluded that the jury would have to speculate to find causation in this case, but the Supreme Court disagreed. While there was no evidence of the exact location of the sign (which was temporary), a rational jury could find causation from other elements, including various parties’ and witnesses’ testimony about where the sign was placed and how Small was required to drive to make her turn. Thus, the high court vacated the judgment and remanded the case.
I strongly agree that this is an issue of fact that is most appropriate for a jury to decide. As a Missouri motor vehicle accident lawyer, I demonstrate this kind of driving decision to the jury all the time. Most drivers can relate to the need to make a good judgment when entering a partly obscured intersection, and even those who don’t ride a motorcycle can likely sympathize with McIlroy’s decision to swerve out of the way when he saw, or thought he saw, a driver entering his lane. It’s also interesting to me as a southern Illinois auto accident attorney that the claims against Small were dismissed. It’s unfortunately not uncommon for motorcyclists to have one-vehicle accidents that were nonetheless caused by another driver’s bad decisions, because a motorcycle is less stable than a car. Insurance companies see this as an opportunity to deny that their insured is at fault, which is why it’s important for accident victims to fight back.

Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients across Missouri and southern Illinois who were seriously hurt through no fault of their own by someone else’s bad decisions. If you’d like to tell us your story and discuss your legal options, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message through our website.
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