Enterprise and one of its employees seeks to dismiss a suit alleging a man died in a fatal collision after a rental car ran out of gas, arguing that the fatal collision involving another disabled vehicle on the highway was unforeseeable.
Pamela Fox, as special administrator of the estate of Mark Morris, deceased, filed the complaint on May 10 against Enterprise Leasing Company of STL, LLC, and Stetson Myers.
According to the complaint, Fox alleges Morris was traveling southbound on Interstate 55 in a vehicle rented from Enterprise with employee Myers on May 12, 2015. The vehicle ran out of gas and was directed to the side of the road. The plaintiff is unsure who was driving the rental car.
Fox alleges Morris was struck by a Chevrolet Tahoe driven by Dewayne Nichol, which allegedly carried him approximately 137 feet before coming to a stop.
Morris was taken to the Gateway Regional Medical Center but was pronounced dead at 7:03 p.m.
However, in a motion to dismiss filed Aug. 8, the defendants explain that a vehicle driven by Ricki Turner became disabled in the middle of the lanes of traffic on I-55, past where the rental car was on the side of the road.
Morris and Myers went to the aid of Turner in the roadway. When they could not move the disabled vehicle, Myers returned to the safety of the shoulder of the road.
Morris remained standing in a lane of traffic on I-55 in front of the disabled vehicle when he was struck by Nichol.
“Plaintiff’s claim is based on the fact that while decedent Mark Morris was riding in the rental car, it ran out of gas,” the motion states. “However, there is no causal connection between allowing the car to run out of gas and being pulled to the side of the road, and decedent’s death.”
The defendants argue that the plaintiff alleges negligence for failing to refuel the rental car, putting Morris in an unsafe situation and stopping the rental car partially in a lane of traffic.
“In this case, it is clear that plaintiff cannot sustain a cause of action because the alleged negligence of defendants – running out of gas – had nothing to do with the death of Morris, apart from the happenstance that they pulled to the side of the road in the vicinity of where Turner’s vehicle would later break down,” the motion states. “Defendants could not reasonably have anticipated Morris’s decision to walk into the highway as a result of running out of gas.”
The defendants argue that the rental car running out of gas and pulling to the side of the road were conditions of injury, not causes.
“Defendants could anticipate that running out of gas would require the car to be pulled to the side of the road, however, it was completely unforeseeable that the occupant of the rental car would walk onto the highway to assist this third party in the midst of traffic,” the motion states.
They also argue that they could not foresee that Morris would walk onto the highway to assist the disabled vehicle and that another driver would fail to see the disabled vehicle and cause a collision.
“Running out of gas is not inherently dangerous, and while he was safely on the side of the road, Morris was not endangered. When he ventured into the roadway of his own volition, Enterprise and Myers had no continuing duty to keep Morris safe.
“To argue that Enterprise was responsible for Morris’ safety after he left the rental car and voluntarily went to the assistance of Turner is a strenuous and overreaching attempt to connect two unconnected events,” the motion states.
St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker scheduled a case management conference for Oct. 23 at 9 a.m.
The defendants are represented by attorneys John Cunningham and Denise Baker-Seal of Brown & James PC in Belleville.
Fox is represented by Colleen C. Jones of Cook, Ysursa, Bartholomew, Brauer and Shevlin LTD in Belleville.
St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 17-L-232