'Girlfriend Motion' and 'Dead Man's Act' argued in Pontoon Beach negligence case

By Amelia Flood | Jun 1, 2009


Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder on Monday continued to plow through mountains of motions in a 2007 negligence suit stemming from an accident in Pontoon Beach.

Crowder heard multiple motions on subjects ranging from the "Dead Man's Act" to drunkenness and to a so-called "Girlfriend Motion."

Crowder set additional time on Thursday to hear more motions in the case of Russell Martin vs. the estate of David Groves and others.

The 2007 complaint has been amended to include several companies with connections to the site of the accident. Multiple counterclaims have been filed by those companies and a wrongful death action was brought against the companies by the widow of David Groves, Julia Groves.

The 2007 suit stems from a crash involving a tractor trailer in November 2006. Russell Martin was a passenger in a car driven by his friend and co-worker David Groves when it hit a backing-up tractor trailer driven by Florida-resident Jose Velazquez.

David Groves died several weeks later from his injuries. Russell Martin survived after sustaining severe brain and other injuries.

Cynthia Martin originally sued the Groves' estate through Julia Groves as special representative. The suits and counterclaims grew to encompass the accident site's leasing company, CP/IPERS, the tenant, Proctor and Gamble Manufacturing, and YRC, the company hired by Proctor and Gamble to look after the site's logistics.

Velazquez and his employer, Werner Enterprises Inc. are also defendants.

CP/IPERS was granted a summary judgment last week. YRC has settled, pending court approval, with Martin and the Groves estate for $1.1 million.

One of the more hotly argued motions Crowder heard Monday was brought by Belleville attorney Joseph Bartholomew on behalf of his clients Cynthia and Russell Martin.

Bartholomew sought to bar testimony about Russell Martin's alleged intoxication as to his comparative fault. He argued that it was irrelevant and prejudicial. He asserted that Werner, Velazquez and the other defendants had no evidence to support their claims that Russell Martin's state could have constituted negligence.

"This is all mere speculation," Bartholomew said. "They want a jury to speculate."

Richard Nash argued for Werner and Velazquez that evidence of Martin's blood alcohol level taken after the accident at St. Louis University Medical Center in St. Louis supported their arguments about Martin's alleged negligence. He said that the conduct of Martin and Groves' prior to the incident was a fact that jurors should be able to consider.

"They [the plaintiffs] would have this court rule in essence that they were on a Sunday school picnic," Nash said. "That is turning bottom up and up down if they were to have their way. You don't get a pass in Madison County or in the state of Illinois to drive around the highways fully loaded."

Nash contended that Russell Martin did have a duty to check any possible misconduct by driver Groves under Illinois law. Bartholomew disputed that.

The defendants have also asked Crowder to reconsider a ruling she made regarding David Groves. Last week, Crowder barred evidence of Groves' possible intoxication under the Illinois Dead Man's Act. The defense argues that their expert testimony is supported by objective facts and does not fall under the act's mandate.

Lawyers for the Groves estate argued a motion to bar evidence of Groves' alleged relationships with a woman other than his wife, whom he called on the night of the accident in what they called the "Girlfriend Motion." The name caused general laughter from the judge and lawyers gathered.

Crowder granted plaintiff's motion barring a 10 year-old DUI conviction of Martin's from evidence and she granted several uncontested motions.

More motions will be heard Thursday, possibly beginning in the morning.

Cynthia Martin is represented by Joseph Bartholomew. Werner and Jose Velazquez are represented by Richard Nash and William Brasher of St. Louis.

The Groves estate is represented by Thomas Buckley and others. YRC was represented by Michael Kleffner. CP/IPERS and Procter & Gamble are represented by Matthew Reh and others.

The case is Madison case number 07-L-224.

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