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Baird v. Chicago

SEPTEMBER 17, 1975.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. J. WALDO ACKERMAN, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied October 17, 1975.

Plaintiffs, James Baird, as administrator of the estate of Debra Lynn Baird, deceased; and John E. Massich, as administrator of the estate of Michael E. Massich, deceased, brought action in the circuit court of Sangamon County against defendant Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, a corporation, now Burlington Northern, Inc., a corporation, pursuant to section 2 of the Wrongful Death Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 70, par. 2) for the death of their respective decedents. At the first trial, the jury returned verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs in the sum of $100,000 each. On appeal from judgment entered on those verdicts, this court in Baird v. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R.R. Co., 11 Ill. App.3d 264, 296 N.E.2d 365, reversed and remanded for a new trial only as to the question of damages. We ruled that an instruction given improperly permitted the jury to award punitive damages. At the retrial, the jury returned verdicts in favor of each plaintiff in the sum of $188,000. From judgments entered on those verdicts, defendant again appeals.

At the time of her death, Debra Lynn Baird was a 17-year-old high school junior. The evidence is undisputed that she was in good health, active in school and church affairs and aspired to be a special education teacher. She lived on a farm with her parents who were both 45 years of age at the time of the trial. She was an obedient girl who helped both parents, cared for her younger brother and was generous in her gifts to the family. She had done well in her summer job at the McFarland Zone Center where she worked with retarded children. She was known for her compassion to both children and older people and often did baby-sitting, refusing pay.

Michael E. Massich, who was 19 years old at the time of his death, had lived with his grandmother since he was 17 months old. His father, who survives, was 53 years old at the time of the trial. Michael was also a helpful obedient, religious person. He was a straight "A" student in high school, participated in football and track and was valedictorian of his class. In the school year prior to his death, he attended the University of Illinois where he received a "C" average in the difficult chemistry and engineering curriculum while at the same time working to partially support himself. His father had saved money for the boy's education but Michael refused to accept it and took out a loan to supplement what he could earn himself. Since he was a youngster the boy had given his father money for a birthday present and upon the father's birthday prior to the son leaving for college he gave him $50 as a present. The father testified that Michael had promised to build a house for him and to take care of him after he retired.

Dr. Leo Cohen, who at the time of the trial was Chief of the Office of Financial Affairs for the Department of Local Government Affairs for the State of Illinois and on leave as a professor of economics at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, testified for plaintiffs. He stated that from an accepted table giving statistics of females in this state, a 17-year-old girl would have a life expectancy of 53.98 years and, assuming that she went into the work force at age 20, would have a work-life expectancy of 41.3 years. A similar table showed that a male 19 years of age would have a work-life expectancy of 41.8 years. Dr. Cohen stated that an average salary for males without regard to education would be $9851 per year. The following then took place:

"Q. And what is the total income for this average period — for the 41.8 year period?

A. Four hundred and —

MR. GRAHAM: Objection, your honor. It has no relevancy. Simple multiplication of the average times the number of years won't get us anywhere at all.

MR. GILLESPIE: Well, I am trying to explain the exhibit, your honor, I don't know whether — whether it's relevant or not. I think it's relevant so far as going onto the next exhibits.

THE COURT: All right. I'll overrule the objection."

The witness then answered that the total in question would be the sum of $411,802. Without further objection he testified that in a similar manner the average earnings for a female with four years of high school is $4215 a year and that her total life-work expectancy would yield the sum of $174,087. He further stated that the average earnings for a male with four years of college would be $10,267 yielding a total sum of $429,140 over his estimated work-life.

Dr. Cohen then testified that statistics collected over many years indicate a trend of continually increasing wages and salaries for individuals and that a reasonable projection of earnings into the future should take this into consideration. He also recognized that the present value of a given amount of earnings to be received in the future has a lesser value today because money, when invested, can earn interest or profit, making the right to a given sum of money more valuable the sooner received. He indicated that both of these factors should be taken into consideration in making a true projection of present value of future anticipated wages or salaries and that these factors cancelled each other out because the going annual interest rate was about the same percentage as the average yearly increase in the salary or wage rate.

On cross-examination, Dr. Cohen stated that the average person had about 5 percent of his income available for savings. The average expenditure of 20 percent of the income for taxes was an item that limited the average savings to 5 percent. He testified that persons the ages of John Massich, James Baird and Ruth Baird had life expectancies of about 20, 27 and 32 years, respectively. He then made a computation of 5 percent of an annual salary of $10,267 (the figure he had given on direct examination as the average annual salary of a male college graduate) times the average life expectancy of a person the age of John E. Massich and obtained a figure of $10,302.93. A similar computation was made by multiplying by 5 percent the product of the average annual income of a woman of the average life expectancy of Ruth Baird and a figure of $6533.25 ...

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