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Eckdahl v. Lease-a-plane Int'l Licensing





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ROBERT E. CHERRY, Judge, presiding.


In this personal injury action, a jury awarded plaintiff, Debbie Tomaskovic Eckdahl, $46,800 in damages for injuries she sustained in an automobile chain collision. Finding this award inadequate, plaintiff filed a post-trial motion seeking a new trial on the issue of damages only. The trial court denied the motion.

Plaintiff appeals contending (1) the verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence, (2) was so inadequate as to constitute a compromise verdict, and (3) a new trial on the issue of damages only should have been granted.

The accident occurred on June 26, 1971, on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. Defendant Burton J. Greenfield was driving an automobile as an employee of defendant Lease-A-Plane International Licensing Corporation (Lease-A-Plane). Greenfield, seeing vehicles stopped in front of him, applied his brakes, which locked and caused his automobile to skid into the rear of an automobile driven by Rudolph Romani. The impact forced Romani's automobile into the rear of plaintiff's automobile which was stopped in front of him.

Plaintiff filed a personal injury complaint against Greenfield, Lease-A-Plane, and Romani seeking $250,000 in damages. Romani's motion for summary judgment as to his liability was granted by the trial court.

The case proceeded to trial against defendants Greenfield and Lease-A-Plane. At the close of all the evidence, the trial court granted plaintiff's motion for a directed verdict against defendants on the issue of liability. Only the issue of damages was submitted for the jury's determination. The following evidence relevant to the issue of damages was adduced at trial.

Plaintiff testified that on the day of the accident she was in good physical condition. However, plaintiff testified to her involvement in a prior automobile accident in November 1969. As a result of the 1969 accident, plaintiff sustained neck injuries, was hospitalized for 10 days, received 16 days of physical therapy, was off work for one month, and was under a doctor's care until April 1970. On cross-examination, plaintiff said it could have been four or five months that she did not work. At the time of the 1971 accident, plaintiff stated that her neck still bothered her, especially in cold or rainy weather.

Plaintiff testified that in the instant occurrence, her automobile was struck from behind, the impact of which threw her forward, her head cracking the windshield, and then threw her backward. She stated that she was "shook up but did not feel hurt" until later that day when she went to a hospital emergency room complaining of a headache, dizziness, and nausea. Two days later she was hospitalized for three days, given medication, heat massages, and traction for her neck. She continued under a doctor's care until August 1971.

At the time of the accident, plaintiff worked part-time and was a part-time night student working toward a masters degree in clinical psychology. She had worn glasses for reading since the age of 15. About three weeks prior to the accident, plaintiff saw Dr. Lockhardt, an optometrist, complaining of reading problems. About three weeks after the accident, having trouble seeing and not able to read at all, she went back to Dr. Lockhardt. She saw him two or three times, resulting in two changes in her lens prescription.

According to plaintiff, her sight grew progressively worse, she could not drive at night, and it seemed as though she was looking "through a tunnel." She went to an ophthalmologist, Dr. Merz, about four months after the accident. On cross-examination, plaintiff said it could have been a year after the accident before she saw Merz for the first time. Dr. Merz changed her lens prescription, tested her peripheral vision, and sent her to Dr. North who prescribed soft contact lenses. Plaintiff testified the contacts did not solve her problem. Plaintiff also testified to seeing Dr. Speigel, a neurosurgeon about four or five months after the accident; however, on cross-examination, plaintiff admitted it was about 13 months after the accident. Plaintiff stated that Speigel told her he could not do anything for her condition and that she should see a neurologist every two months.

Because of headaches, plaintiff said she did not return to work until about three months after the accident. However, she stated that she returned to school about one week after the accident and finished the summer school session. She resumed classes in the fall of 1971, but quit sometime in 1972 on account of headaches and reading problems.

Plaintiff testified that, at the time of trial, she had headaches, dizziness, and nausea at least three times a week; that her mother had to help her with the housework and her two children; that she could not participate in her usual sport activities; that her eyesight was worse; that she could not watch television longer than one hour; that her reading was limited; that she could only drive when it was light outside; and that she could not see out of the corners of her eyes.

Dr. Merz, an opthalmologist, testified that he first saw plaintiff in July 1972, again in August and September 1972, and once in May 1976. Plaintiff told Dr. Merz of the 1971 accident and her subsequent treatment, but did not tell him of the 1969 accident nor that she went to an optometrist three weeks before the accident complaining of reading difficulties. She told him she had her glasses changed three times in one year, and that she was seeing Dr. Speigel with neurological problems.

Dr. Merz testified that he performed vision tests on the plaintiff which involved the moving of a target in and out on a chart in order to determine whether the patient had an impairment in her field of vision. Plaintiff told Dr. Merz that she could not see parts of the chart with either eye. Dr. Merz concluded that plaintiff had blind spots in both eyes and the problem was behind the eyes in the chiasm. The chiasm, he explained, is located in the brain and is where the ...

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