Fiat Chrysler: Federal court best place for case alleging Jeep Liberty defects in 2012 Bishop Ford Dolton fatal crash

Dan Churney Jun. 6, 2015, 9:00am

Attorneys for automaker Fiat Chrysler are hoping to move a lawsuit, alleging a defective Jeep Liberty contributed to a 2012 fatal crash on the Bishop Ford Freeway, from Cook County Circuit Court to federal court, because the plaintiffs have settled with all defendants from Illinois, and there are no longer any parties in the case from Cook County.

The filing stems from a Sept. 5, 2012, in Dolton, 73-year-old Henry R. Womack Sr. was driving a semi-trailer truck northbound in the center lane of Interstate 94, known as the Bishop Ford, when a 2003 Jeep Liberty Sport Freedom driven by Chantal D. Washington Cole, merged onto I-94 from Sibley Boulevard. Cole allegedly crossed two lanes and entered Womack's lane, crashing into Womack and causing Womack's truck to veer into concrete support pillars, killing him, according to court documents.

Womack was from South Carolina. The 50-year-old Cole was cited on complaints of improper lane usage and driving too fast for conditions.

In August 2014, South Carolina resident Rosalee Womack filed a suit on behalf of Henry Womack’s estate, against Cole and the owner of Cole’s Jeep, Ronald J. Cole, as well as against DaimlerChrysler Corp., Chrysler Group Michigan LLC, Fiat U.S.A., Inc. and Chrysler Group LLC, now known as FCA US LLC.

Rosalee Womack, through her attorney, Alfred D. Ivy III, of Urbana, accused Chantal Cole of driving recklessly and Ronald Cole of failing to ensure the Jeep had sufficient brakes and tires. Further, Ivy said Ronald Cole should not have allowed Chantal to drive the Jeep, because he knew Chantal would not drive safely.

Ivy went on to charge the corporate defendants with designing, making and distributing the Jeep without “state-of-the-art safety features,” including a “traffic avoidance device” that would have alerted Chantal Cole her Jeep was about to hit Womack's truck.

In December 2014, Rosalee Womack dropped all the defendants from the suit except the Coles and FCA US LLC. On April 30, Cook County Judge Larry Axelrood granted a motion by the Coles to dismiss the Coles as defendants, as a $100,000 settlement had been reached between them and Womack. The judge's action left FCA US LLC the remaining defendant.

Last week, FCA US filed papers in U.S. District Court, saying the case should be handled in federal, rather than circuit court. FCA US argued Rosalee Womack lives in South Carolina and FCA US is incorporated in Delaware, with principal offices in Michigan.

FCA US further contend, because Chantal Cole and Ronald Cole are no longer defendants, there are no Illinois parties in the case and the remaining parties are from different states — another reason the case belongs in federal district court, which embraces the place where the suit is pending.

FCA US also maintained the amount of damages exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs – another criteria for federal jurisdiction.

FCA US is represented by Swanson, Martin & Bell, of Chicago. The request to have the case moved to federal court is before U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin, with Michael Mason designated as magistrate judge. No hearing date has been set.

More News