A Chicago cab driver whose taxi struck and killed a college student waiting at a bus stop in 2012 received permission from a federal court this month to proceed with litigation against Ford over claims a design flaw in the 2007 Crown Victoria he was driving that day caused the car to accelerate uncontrollably, resulting in the fatal crash.
The court, however, restricted his ability to collect damages, noting that Illinois law does not allow him to sue the automaker over lost income stemming from actions taken by the City of Chicago and state of Illinois to prevent him from continuing as a cab driver while criminal charges against him as a result of the crash are pending.
On March 2, U.S. District Judge Jorge L. Alonso rendered a split decision on Ford’s motion to dismiss John Kesse's complaint, saying it is of sufficient quality to move forward, while also rejecting the plaintiff’s attempts to collect enhanced damages for the purely economic damages he claims he has suffered in the years following the crash.
The litigation stems from an Aug. 14, 2012 crash near Milwaukee and Ogden avenues in Chicago’s River West neighborhood, in which University of Chicago MBA student Eric Kerestes was killed.
According to published reports, police said Kesse, then 60 and a veteran cab driver, picked up a fare in his cab at about 6 a.m. Shortly after, his vehicle accelerated through traffic on Milwaukee Avenue, and was seen veering in and out of traffic, using the oncoming lanes to pass cars ahead and running two red lights. His vehicle then struck a light pole, veered across Milwaukee and Ogden avenues, before jumping the curb and striking Kerestes, who was waiting on the sidewalk for a bus.
Kesse was charged with reckless homicide and appears to be awaiting trial.
Kesse, however, claims the vehicle experienced mechanical problems, causing it to “spontaneously” accelerate “at a high rate of speed,” and leaving him unable to stop the car “despite repeated braking attempts.”
He contends his maneuvers that morning, including striking the light pole and jumping the curb, were the result of his “drastic evasive efforts to stop the vehicle” and avoid colliding with other vehicles on the street.
In his five-count complaint, Kesse alleges Ford knew of the defective vehicle design-- an alleged susceptibility to “electromagnetic interference, which caused sudden unintended acceleration," and a lack of “an adequate fail-safe braking system,” and “an adequate brake override system”-- but still sold the vehicle without any warning to consumers.
His suit includes counts for liability, failure to warn, fraud, breach of warranty and tolling the statute of limitations.
In response, Ford asked the judge to dismiss the complaint on several grounds, asserting, among others, Kesse did not actually state a case for fraud, his damages claims center on economic damages, rather than personal injury or emotional distress and the statute of limitations had expired.
Alonso granted Ford’s request to dismiss the fraud count, noting Kesse “merely alleges” a product sold by Ford was defective, not a “fraudulent statement or omission” by the automaker. The judge denied Kesse the chance to amend his complaint to “include additional fraud allegations.”
The judge also tossed Kesse’s allegations centering on his economic loss as a result of the crash, saying legal precedent interprets Illinois law to exclude such economic loss claims in almost all circumstances, even those arising from “sudden and calamitous” events.
Kesse had claimed he suffered financial losses from “excessive lease payments,” lost income and other fees after a judge in criminal court and Chicago taxi regulators barred him driving his cab following the crash.
Alonso, however, said Kesse would be allowed to continue to press personal injury claims he asserts are “‘directly attributable’ to the design defects in Ford’s vehicle” and the company’s alleged failure to warn of the defects.
However, Alonso noted the removal of economic damages from Kesse’s complaint “severely restricts his avenues of recovery” of damages.