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Deal announced to end lawsuit over condition of historic jet car loaned to Museum of Science & Industry

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jan 24, 2017


Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and legendary driver Craig Breedlove have reached an agreement to end their legal dispute over the condition of the historic jet-propelled car in which Breedlove set two land speed records in the 1960s.

On Jan. 23, the museum and Breedlove issued a joint statement confirming they had reached the deal to end Breedlove’s lawsuit against MSI for the museum’s alleged mistreatment of the car, dubbed the Spirit of America.

The statement said the settlement terms were confidential.

“Breedlove drove the racecar in 1963 when he recaptured the world land-speed record for the United States,” said the museum and Breedlove in the prepared statement. “For more than 50 years, millions of museum visitors were able to get an up-close view of the racecar.

“The confidential agreement fully resolves a lawsuit brought against the museum regarding the condition of the car.”

The case landed in Chicago federal court in June 2016, when Breedlove, a five-time holder of world land speed records and the first man to drive a car 600 miles per hour, sued MSI, alleging the museum failed to properly care for and protect the Spirit of America.

Breedlove, of California, had provided the car to MSI in 1965 for an exhibit. The car had crashed in 1964, but was repaired and cleaned, though not restored to driving condition, for the exhibit.

According to Breedlove’s complaint, the oral agreement he had reached with MSI included a promise that, if the car ever went off display at the museum, it must be returned to Breedlove.

When the museum moved to retire the car from display in October 2015, Breedlove requested its return, having noted during an earlier visit to the museum that the car had suffered “a significant amount of damage,” primarily from people climbing on it or carving their names or other graffiti on it, the complaint alleged. He also alleged the museum had apparently enlisted “incompetent and unqualified personnel” to repair and repaint it, and had “unprofessionally cut and re-welded” the car’s frame.

Breedlove had asked the court to order the museum to pay at least $395,000 for needed repairs, plus punitive and exemplary damages and attorney fees.

Shortly after Breedlove brought the lawsuit, the museum won a dismissal of the case, claiming Breedlove and MSI had no written contract to govern how the museum was to care for the car. However, a federal judge allowed Breedlove to amend his complaint. And, in early January, the judge rejected the museum’s renewed efforts to dismiss the case, saying the museum could be legally bound to be governed by standards for the care of loaned materials specified by the American Alliance of Museums.

While case law on the subject is scant, the museum’s membership in the American Alliance of Museums and its acquiescence to the AAM’s National Standards and Best Practices can serve to establish a guideline for the museum’s obligations and fiduciary duties to those who loan items to be displayed in the museum’s collection, the judge said.

As of the evening of Jan. 23, neither MSI nor Breedlove had presented a motion to the judge regarding a settlement.

Breedlove is represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Freeman Freeman & Smiley, of Los Angeles, and Horwood Marcus & Berk, of Chicago.

The Museum of Science and Industry is defended by attorneys with the firm of Schiff Hardin LLP, of Chicago. 

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Organizations in this Story

Museum of Science and IndustryHorwood Marcus & Berk, CharteredSchiff Hardin LLP