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Intrater v. Thomas





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. WALTER J. KOWALSKI, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied December 13, 1977.

Plaintiff, Dvora J. Intrater, brought this action to recover damages for injuries she claimed to have sustained when the doors of a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) elevated train allegedly closed on her body as she entered the train, throwing her to the ground. Defendants, Jeffrey Thomas and James Corey, were, respectively, the motorman and conductor of the train on which the incident occurred. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants and plaintiff appeals contending that: (1) the court erred in allowing defendants to introduce evidence of prior injuries; (2) certain evidence and statements by defendants regarding plaintiff's mental condition prejudiced the jury and denied plaintiff a fair trial; and (3) the verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm. The pertinent evidence follows.

Erling Hanssen, a witness for plaintiff, testified that on June 14, 1971, he took a bus to the Loyola-Sheridan CTA elevated train station on his way to work. Plaintiff was on the same bus and also exited at the Loyola station. The witness and plaintiff both ascended to the elevated platform and prepared to enter the first car on the waiting southbound train. Hanssen stated that he was following behind plaintiff and that when she tried to enter the car she was caught between the closing doors. On cross-examination Hanssen stated that he could not say exactly what happened, but he knew that plaintiff's feet were caught between the closing doors.

Plaintiff testified that on June 14, 1971, as she was entering a CTA train at the Loyola station, she stepped in with her right foot and all of a sudden the doors closed on her, throwing her to the floor. As she lay there with the major portion of her body inside the car and her feet extending through the doors toward the elevated platform, the doors continued to open and close on her, for approximately three more times. Finally, a fellow passenger helped her to her feet and she took a seat inside the train.

Plaintiff knocked immediately on the door of the motorman's cab and informed him that she had been caught between the doors. The motorman notified the conductor and plaintiff was asked if she wished to be taken to an emergency room, but she declined. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff noticed that her fingers, hands and knees were bleeding and she again summoned the motorman. The conductor was notified and he inquired again whether plaintiff wished treatment. She responded affirmatively and was removed from the train at the Grand Avenue station and transported to the hospital.

Concerning her injuries plaintiff testified to numerous visits to three different doctors. She stated that she told one of her physicians, Dr. Kernahan, during the week prior to trial that she had strong pain in her shoulder, some pain in her ribs, and that her head bothered her. Dr. Kernahan responded by telling plaintiff she would have to learn to live with the pain. She testified that prior to the accident she had experienced some shoulder problems and headaches, but both of these ailments had worsened since the accident. Plaintiff also stated that in 1969 her doctor prescribed a lumbosacral belt, or "corset" for her to wear because of back pain she was experiencing. She only wore it for a few weeks, however. Plaintiff testified that she had been in the hospital for a period of almost three weeks approximately 12 years ago. At that time she had been placed in isolation, which upset her, so she was assigned to a psychiatrist to talk to. She also received some psychiatric care in 1969 in connection with another physical ailment. Following the instant accident, since 1973, she had been seeing a psychiatrist for treatment for a depressed state, emanating from a concern over the injuries she had allegedly received in this incident and their effect on her ability to work.

Dr. William T. Kernahan testified that he treated plaintiff following the accident for pain in her right shoulder and lower back. He prescribed a new lumbosacral corset for her since her old one was worn out and ordered out-patient physical therapy for her. Dr. Kernahan continued treating and seeing plaintiff numerous times during the following years. During her later visits plaintiff continued to complain of shoulder and back pain. Dr. Kernahan found no further physical incapacity and noted that the range of shoulder movement had increased since the accident. He advised her to see a psychiatrist concerning her anxiety and depression, however. Such anxieties could cause a patient to magnify the extent of her pain and disabilities.

Dr. Mercedes Argudin testified that she had been plaintiff's psychiatrist since early in 1973. She was treating plaintiff for a "depressive reaction" condition. Such condition in this case could have been caused, in the doctor's opinion, by an emotional reaction to her physical limitations following her accident. However, it could have been in reaction to any incident which tended to make plaintiff more dependent upon others. Plaintiff was worried about losing her job due to her bad back and limited shoulder movement.

Dr. Henry Head testified that he saw plaintiff at the hospital on the day of the accident. She was complaining of soreness in her knees, arms, shoulders and back and appeared to be in distress due to her injuries. She clearly had abrasions on her knees and fingers. She had bandages on her legs, knees and hands. Dr. Head referred plaintiff to Dr. Kernahan, but he also saw her in the ensuing years concerning her complaints about headaches and shoulder and back problems. In Dr. Head's opinion, the instant occurrence caused plaintiff's loss of shoulder mobility and aggravated her previously existent lower back problems.

Dr. Eugene Blonsky testified for the defense that he examined plaintiff in 1969. At that time he took her medical history which revealed that she had suffered head and neck injuries in a 1956 fall. Following this fall she had had headaches which she "relieved by Bufferin" but which had returned prior to the 1969 examination. During his examination of plaintiff, Dr. Blonsky found that plaintiff had some limitation of motion in her right shoulder due to bursitis pain. An electroencephalogram revealed the presence of a "discharging lesion" in the left temporal lobe area of plaintiff's brain. Dr. Blonsky explained that such a lesion merely meant a region in the brain which irregularly "discharged electrically" its impulses. It did not indicate a space-occupying lesion, such as a tumor. The doctor also diagnosed plaintiff as having degenerative arthritis in her spine, but concluded that most of her problems were of a psychiatric nature. He stated, however, that both plaintiff's physical problems, as well as her depressed mental state, could have been aggravated by the instant occurrence.

Defendant Jeffrey Thomas testified that he was the motorman on the CTA train involved in the instant occurrence. The motorman's cab was on the right-hand side of the lead car, while the passengers at the Loyola station entered from the left-hand side. He could not see the passenger's door from a sitting position in his cab. The first notice that defendant had of any unusual occurrence that day was when someone knocked on his window and reported that a passenger had had an accident. Thomas stated that the CTA car doors were such that they would continue opening and closing if an object were between them.

Defendant James Corey was the conductor on the instant train. At the Loyola station he followed the usual procedure of putting his head out of the window and looking before closing the doors. No one was attempting to board the train when he closed the doors, and Corey did not see anyone protruding from any door. He first learned of the accident after the train had left the Loyola station.

Corey stated that while he could not see the actual front doors on the first car, he would be able to see anyone attempting to enter those doors. Only if the passenger stopped right on the edge of the door, after entering, would Corey not be able to see him. Likewise, if a passenger's feet were protruding from a door for any distance Corey would observe them; however, if they were just caught within the door itself he probably could not see them.

Corey testified further that the CTA train doors are two-sectioned and open inwards in an arc fashion. The doors are edged in hollow, flexible rubber, which contain protective "recoil" devices that cause the doors to spring open when they encounter an object in the process of closing. The doors will continue to open and shut until the obstruction is clear of the doors.

William L. Simms, a defense witness, testified that he was in the CTA car in which this incident occurred. He observed plaintiff enter the train and fall toward the floor. At that time the doors were open. Plaintiff fell to her hands and knees, and then the train doors started to open and close. Simms thought the doors were touching plaintiff's ankle as they closed. He testified that plaintiff's feet were partially out of the train, her toes extending into the space between the train and the station. Simms held the doors open and helped plaintiff to her feet.

Simms admitted that he had previously filled out a CTA information statement by stating, "I did not see how the accident happened." In the same statement, concerning the cause of the accident, Simms had written "unknown." Simms explained that while he did not know how or what caused plaintiff to fall, the doors were open when the accident occurred. He noticed no defect in the platform or car floor which would have caused the fall. In ...

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