Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon.
FREDERICK S. GREEN, Judge, presiding. Reversed and remanded in
Rehearing denied and opinion modified September 6, 1967.
Defendant appeals judgments entered upon verdicts of a jury in favor of the executor of the estate of Manion in the sum of $18,000, and in favor of his widow, individually, for medical and funeral expense in the sum of $3,445.24.
A collision occurred on February 14, 1964, when the automobile of the decedent was struck in the rear by defendant's truck. Decedent died on February 5, 1965. Prior to his death he had filed suit for injuries sustained in the collision. Following his death, the present action was filed in a count for wrongful death, and a count for the medical and funeral expenses incurred by the widow.
On the date of the collision, decedent, while driving to work at about 8:30 a.m., travelled easterly on Florida Avenue to its intersection with Race Street in Urbana, Illinois. This intersection is a four-way stop intersection. The evidence is that his car was stopped with the wheels turned as if to make a left turn on to Florida Avenue. Defendant's motor truck approached from the west, and decedent's automobile was observed standing at the intersection as the truck approached from behind for a distance of something more than one block. During this period of time no traffic was observed at the intersection of Florida and Race Street. As defendant's truck approached from the rear, slowing for the intersection, decedent's car continued to stand at the intersection and was struck by defendant's truck. Testimony is that its speed was then 3 to 5 miles an hour. Following the impact, decedent's car moved across Florida Avenue and came to rest against the curb. Defendant's driver, and a man with him, immediately went to decedent's car. Decedent stated that he needed no help, and apparently declined an offer of medical assistance. The parties exchanged identification and decedent proceeded to his office where he was employed as a petroleum technician by the Department of Revenue of the State of Illinois. Remaining a short time at his office, he complained of not feeling well and returned to his home. During the day his wife took him to see a Dr. Scott at the Christy Clinic.
A review of the medical history and the development of decedent's condition following the collision is pertinent. At the time of the collision, decedent was approximately 68 years of age; he was described by his wife and a witness employed in the same building as being in good health in the sense that he was regularly at his employment.
Following his death, an autopsy was performed and the report is in evidence. The immediate causes of death discovered include acute coronary thrombosis with congestive heart failure, pulmonary adenoma and diffuse cerebral atrophy. The autopsy set forth findings in some nine or ten categories which, as interpreted by one of the doctors, includes: (1) a heart attack, left ventricle; (2) arteriolosclerosis, hardening of the small arteries; (3) atherosclerosis of the brain with atrophy; (4) arteriolarnephrosclerosis in the kidneys; (6) kidney disease; (7) acute bronchitis; (8) damage to the spleen; (9) interstitial nephritis in the kidney tissue and (10) hypertensive cardiovascular disease and long standing damage of the adrenal glands.
It is agreed by the doctors, both for the plaintiff and the defendant, that the items found on the autopsy are degenerative diseases and that none of the conditions discovered on the autopsy, and no cause of death found, could be directly attributed to trauma.
The medical history of the decedent included surgery for hernia and a prostatectomy in the 1940's. In 1951 or 1952 he was found to have glaucoma and treatment was instituted. An examination in 1956 discloses cardiac enlargement with pulmonary congestion. In 1962 he was examined again because of the condition of his heart, and in that and the following year he was seen with regard to upper respiratory infections and heart fibrillation. The treatment for the latter condition was the use of digitalis, apparently taken regularly.
Upon examination following the collision, decedent complained of a pain in his right arm and his right chest, stating that he had hit his arm and neck. All X rays, including that of the skull, were negative. The doctor observed a bruise on decedent's arm. On the 16th of February, decedent was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of acute cervical muscle strain, intravertebral (sic) ligament strain and contusion of the right shoulder and arm. In addition, the diagnosis included arteriosclerotic heart disease, irregular fibrillation and congestive heart failure. Decedent exhibited confusion, but no localizing signs were found to explain disorientation. Decedent was treated for the heart failure and given medication for the muscular strain and was released on February 19th. Dr. Scott saw decedent on March 6th, at which time he was confused and suffering heart fibrillation. Later in the month decedent underwent surgery for glaucoma.
Dr. Scott made an examination in April which disclosed that decedent remained confused, had irregular fibrillation, with his heart failure under fairly good control by medication.
On June 29, 1964, decedent was again admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of arteriosclerotic heart disease, irregular fibrillation and heart failure. He was discharged on July 20th. Decedent was seen by the doctor on January 23, 1965, because of his confusion and he was admitted to the hospital on January 30th. He was found to be markedly short of breath on exertion and while lying flat, there was fluid retention in the limbs and he was completely confused, disoriented and described as in marked cardiac failure.
We have the issue whether a causal connection exists between the collision and the death of the decedent substantially one year later. To support this proposition the plaintiff presented testimony of the opinion of Dr. Scott, a general practitioner attending the decedent, and of Dr. Bonnett, a general practitioner, testifying only upon hypothetical questions. Each doctor testified directly or upon cross-examination that the autopsy findings showed no condition of decedent that was caused by the collision, and showed no cause of death which could be directly attributable to trauma.
Dr. Scott's opinion was expressed in several places in the record. He first stated:
"I believe that his confusion and disorientation possibly could have been related to the accident on February 14, 1964. I believe the cardiac failure was a pre-existing condition which may have been aggravated by the accident on February 14, 1964." (Emphasis supplied.)
At another point he said:
"I believe that the accident aggravated a previous existing condition also."
Such condition was not specified, but upon cross-examination, he said:
"I think he could have had an aggravation of pre-existing ...