Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook county; the Hon. WILBUR
F. CROWLEY, Judge, presiding. The judgment of the Circuit Court
MR. JUSTICE BRYANT DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.
This is an action for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff, Virginia M. Seyferlich, in an automobile collision which occurred near the intersection of Sheridan Road and Belmont Avenue in Chicago. The jury awarded the plaintiff damages in the sum of $12,000 and the defendant appeals from the judgment and the denial of his post trial motion for a new trial.
The two principal issues on this appeal are (1) whether the damages awarded were so grossly excessive as to indicate passion and prejudice on the part of the jury and (2) whether the reference to the defendant's insurance by the plaintiff's attorney in his cross-examination of the defendant's witness required the trial court to declare a mistrial.
This was a rear-end collision case. The accident occurred about 9:00 a.m. on December 28, 1951. The plaintiff was on her way to work as an interior decorator in the firm of Watson and Boaler and was sitting in the front seat of an automobile driven by her husband. The weather was inclement and the pavement was covered with ice and snow. The plaintiff's car went through the intersection on a green light and stopped for several minutes in the middle of the block on Belmont Avenue as a bus ten to twelve feet ahead was stuck in the snow and was blocking the northbound and southbound traffic. The defendant approached the plaintiff's stopped car from the rear, stepped on his brakes and skidded into the plaintiff's car. The defendant does not contest the question of his liability or his negligence and that is not in issue here.
The impact of the collision threw the plaintiff forward and stunned her. The unrefuted medical evidence indicated that she suffered a "whiplash" injury; that is, her head was forcibly thrown forward and backward, snapping the neck, which resulted in a sprain of the cervical spine.
The plaintiff consulted her physician at the office and was advised to go to the Ravenswood Hospital. At the hospital, X-rays were taken and she was required to wear a heavy felt cervical support collar to hold her neck in a rigid position. She wore the collar almost continually for nine months after the accident and gradually discontinued its use by degrees until she was finally able to discard it altogether in 1957. Also, in order to relieve the pain, she had to use a traction halter, which required her to bear the weight of eight to twelve pounds suspended from her neck for a couple of hours in the evening for at least four months.
On May 6, 1952, the plaintiff had another X-ray taken which indicated that there was a beginning narrowing of the little cushion between the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae.
On June 10, 1953, the plaintiff was involved in another rear-end collision. The plaintiff's car stopped at an intersection; a car driven by Mr. Paul Hirsch hit the plaintiff's vehicle from the rear. The plaintiff went back to Dr. Farrington's office to determine if this accident had any effect on her earlier condition. Another X-ray was taken on June 11, 1953, which indicated that there was no change in the narrowing of the little cushion between the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae. She was advised to go back to the support which she had been using intermittently over the years. The plaintiff filed no claim for the second accident nor did she ever receive any compensation for it.
Dr. Farrington testified that the sprain to the cervical spine would cause pain in the neck, arm and cervical spine. He also stated that the changes in the cervical spine, the bony changes, were permanent. He would not say categorically that the narrowing was directly caused by the accident of December 28, 1951, but indicated that it also could be the result of ordinary activity.
The defendant's main contention is that the damages awarded were grossly excessive when considered in the light of the facts, the medical testimony and the alleged failure of the plaintiff to show any loss of earnings by reason of the injury.
The question of permanency of the injury and the pain and suffering resulting from the accident are of course questions for the jury to determine. 15 I.L.P. 614, Damages, 261. The defendant did not attempt to refute the testimony of Dr. Farrington and it was within the province of the jury to conclude that the plaintiff's permanent injury and her pain and suffering were caused by the accident of December 28, 1951.
The plaintiff testified that she had followed the interior decorating business for twenty-two years. She said that during the six years she worked for Watson and Boaler (May 7, 1947 to April 15, 1953) she thought she averaged approximately $6,000 per year up to the time of the accident and estimated that her loss of earnings as the result of the accident of December 28, 1951 to be "approximately around $4,000." In 1953, she left Watson and Boaler to go into business with her husband.
She said that her work as an interior decorator often required her to be on her feet ten to twelve hours a day and that her duties included rearranging furniture and measuring rooms and other activities which required physical exertion on her part. She testified that the pain in her neck, shoulder and arms tended to restrict her activities.
She was confined to her home for a week following the accident and when she returned to work wearing the cervical support collar, her desk was raised on a platform in order to raise the level of the desk.
The plaintiff also testified to a severe attack in January 1956 when she experienced excruciating pains in her shoulder and head. She was hospitalized for two weeks following this seizure during which time she was required to wear a twelve pound traction halter for twenty-four hours a day. After she was ...