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Schwedler v. Galvan





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. GEORGE FIEDLER, Judge, presiding.


The defendants appeal from a jury verdict finding them liable in a dramshop action, contending (1) that the evidence was insufficient to go to the jury, (2) that because of certain evidence improperly admitted, and (3) because of improper remarks by plaintiff's counsel in opening statements and closing arguments creating evidence which did not exist, the defendants were denied a fair trial.

While we find there was sufficient evidence to go to the jury, we agree that because of certain errors in admitting evidence and improper remarks in argument, the judgment must be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial.

This action was originally brought by Joseph P. Scialabba against Ronald J. Galvan and Hector Coronado for wanton and wilful assault, and against the defendants Grove and Southpark Mortgage Corporation for recovery under the Dram Shop Act. Scialabba was shot and wounded on October 4, 1970, shortly after 2 a.m. at the corner of 29th Street and South Wentworth Avenue in Chicago. Sometime after the suit was filed Scialabba died from causes not related to the shooting. The administratrix was substituted as the plaintiff. At the trial, Galvan and Coronado were declared to be in default for their failure to appear and defend or otherwise answer the plaintiff's complaint; however, no judgment has ever been taken against them.

After evidence presented by the plaintiff (the defendants presented no evidence) the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff against the defendants for $15,000.

Besides the administratrix, who testified as to her father's health before and after the shooting, and Dr. McCarthy who treated the deceased after the shooting and who testified as to the nature and permanent effects of the injuries and the reasonableness of his and the hospital's bill, three witnesses testified for the plaintiff. The first of these witnesses was John Kennedy, a patrolman assigned to the case after 8:30 a.m. October 4, 1970. He was allowed to testify over the defendants' objection that Galvan had told him that he and Coronado had been in Josephine's Lounge; that they had left and when they came to a man, Coronado took out a gun and fired it at the man; that Galvan said he hadn't known what was going to happen and he was surprised at it, and that there was no exchange of words. The court did instruct the jury that the evidence as to Galvan's statement was admissible only as to him, and as to him, the court was passing on both the law and the facts.

The second of these witnesses was James Price, who testified substantially as follows: He lived on South Wentworth. At about 2 a.m., October 4, he and a friend of his, Freddie Williams, left a tavern known as Father's Lounge located at 2914 South Wentworth where they had been for several hours. They walked south in the direction of Josephine's Lounge which, according to Price, was the only lounge open at that hour in that block. In about the middle of the block, they were approached by two "Mexicans" who appeared to be drunk. One of the two had a gun. He threatened Williams, saying, "Do you want to die?" Price persuaded them to leave them alone. The two "Mexicans" then continued on their way. Williams and Price stood and chatted and watched the two men. Joseph Scialabba then came around the corner. They heard a shot and Price saw Scialabba fall. While Price did not actually see the shooting, he believed the two men who threatened Williams shot Scialabba. They, Price and Williams, were the only people on the street as Price and Williams walked from Father's to Josephine's.

Price had been in Josephine's Lounge earlier that evening from about 8 p.m. for over an hour. While there, he did not see the two "Mexicans" he later encountered on the street.

The last of these witnesses was John Brown, a bartender at Josephine's Lounge. He testified that on the night of the shooting he worked as the only bartender from 6 p.m. until closing at 2 a.m. Early on the morning of October 4, 1970, three Spanish-speaking men entered the tavern. Brown believed he served each of the men six or eight 12-ounce bottles of beer. One of the men had a gun. Brown told Charles Grove (the owner's husband) that "this dude was drunk and he has a pistol * * *." Grove then took the gun away from the one man. Brown continued to serve the three.

Where the tavern closes at 2 a.m., everyone must leave unless they have a drink on the bar. The three Spanish-speaking men remained for a "short time" after closing but because they became rowdy Grove asked them to leave. Grove also returned the gun to the man from whom he had earlier taken it. All three were drunk when they left, Brown left about five minutes after they did. *fn1

Brown knew one of the three men by the name of "Fox." He did not know the other two. He "believed" Price had been in Josephine's at the same time the trio were there. *fn2

Brown was shown some photographs the next day. Over objections he testified that he recognized some of the photographs as those of the men who were in the bar the night before. The photographs were not identified.

As already stated, the defendants moved for a directed verdict at the end of the plaintiff's case and did not put on any evidence. They also moved for a mistrial because in his opening statement, plaintiff's counsel said that:

"(1) the three men, when leaving the tavern threatened a man, William Butler, who was standing outside. He persuaded the man with the gun to take it easy;

(2) Grove told the police that one of the men they were looking for was Galvan and he believed they called the other man Hector and that Grove also told the ...

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