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Chamness v. Odum

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 27, 1979.

CARL CHAMNESS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

D.G. ODUM, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Union County; the Hon. D.D. BIGLER, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE JONES DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Dr. D.G. Odum, a licensed chiropractor, appeals from a judgment of the circuit court of Union County entered on a verdict in favor of plaintiff, Carl Chamness, in a malpractice action brought by him against defendant Odum. The issues on appeal are: (1) whether the trial court improperly excluded evidence of an alleged admission contained in Chamness' pleadings in his workmen's compensation claim; and (2) whether plaintiff failed to establish the standard of care against which Dr. Odum's treatment of plaintiff was to be measured.

The action brought by Chamness sought damages for personal injuries he allegedly sustained as a result of Dr. Odum's chiropractic treatment of a back injury which plaintiff incurred at work. In his complaint, Chamness alleged that Dr. Odum negligently caused plaintiff to sustain further serious injuries by failing to discover the nature and extent of his injury and/or by manipulating and adjusting plaintiff's back and body "when he knew or should have known that such treatment would injure the plaintiff or aggravate his then-existing injury." The cause was tried before a jury on July 12, 1977, and after hearing the evidence, the jury returned a verdict, holding Dr. Odum liable and assessing damages in the amount of $200,000 in favor of Chamness. The jury also answered in the affirmative a special interrogatory which asked:

"Was the Defendant, D.G. Odum, guilty of negligence which proximately caused or proximately aggravated the injury of the plaintiff Carl Chamness?"

The trial court entered judgment on the verdict, and after defendant's post-trial motions were denied, he commenced this appeal.

Defendant contends first that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of an alleged evidentiary admission made by Chamness in pleadings in his workmen's compensation claim.

Prior to trial, plaintiff Chamness presented a motion in limine seeking to prevent defendant from referring to plaintiff's workmen's compensation claim in any manner. The defendant objected to the motion, arguing that since plaintiff had pleaded that defendant's treatment had either caused plaintiff's injury or aggravated a pre-existing injury, he should be allowed to present evidence, as an admission, that plaintiff signed a workmen's compensation pleading stating that he injured his back in an accident at work. After hearing counsels' arguments, the court granted the motion in limine. Defendant argues that this ruling was error. We disagree.

• 1, 2 It is the generally accepted rule in Illinois that evidence of workmen's compensation recovery may be properly excluded in an action by an injured employee against a third party. (Bryntesen v. Carroll Construction Co. (1963), 27 Ill.2d 566, 190 N.E.2d 315; Sweeney v. Max A.R. Matthews & Co. (1970), 46 Ill.2d 64, 264 N.E.2d 170.) Although the evidence which defendant sought to have admitted would not have revealed how much the plaintiff received from his compensation claim, we find that the trial court properly excluded it since it had no relevance to plaintiff's claim at trial and could only have served to prejudice his case. See generally Mangan v. Broderick & Bascom Rope Co. (7th Cir. 1965), 351 F.2d 24, cert. denied (1966), 383 U.S. 926, 15 L.Ed.2d 846, 86 S.Ct. 930.

Defendant calls our attention to the cases of Bassi v. Morgan (1965), 60 Ill. App.2d 1, 208 N.E.2d 341, and Korleski v. Needham (1966), 77 Ill. App.2d 328, 222 N.E.2d 334, both of which held that admissions contained in workmen's compensation claims were admissible in certain other proceedings. Our examination of these cases reveals that the admissions in those cases had great relevance to issues raised in the other proceedings. Such was not the case here, and consequently the rule of Bassi and Korleski is inapplicable to the case at bar.

In Bassi, the plaintiff brought an action against her employer for injuries arising out of a car accident. The action was based on the theory that plaintiff was a guest passenger in the car driven by her employer at the time of the accident. The defendant asserted as an affirmative defense that the action was barred under the Workmen's Compensation Act because it arose out of and during the course of plaintiff's employment. In support of this defense theory, the defendant offered, but was not allowed, to admit plaintiff's application under the Act which stated that she was injured in an accident "arising out of and in the course of her employment" by defendant. On appeal, the reviewing court held that the trial court erred in refusing to admit this admission since it was extremely relevant to the question of plaintiff's status as an employee and thus to the absolute defense that plaintiff was injured in the course of her employment by defendant.

In Korleski, the plaintiff, who was injured in an automobile collision caused by Harold Needham, deceased, brought an action against the alleged employer of the deceased based on an agency theory, alleging that at the time of the collision Needham was acting in the course of his employment with the defendant company. The trial court admitted an approved industrial commission settlement contract between the defendant company and the deceased's widow in which it was stated that the deceased was killed in an accident that arose out of and while in the defendant's employ. The appellate court held that although this admission was not conclusive as a matter of law, it was properly admitted at trial since it established a prima facie case in favor of plaintiff on the issue of agency.

As these summaries show, the admissions in Bassi and Korleski, if accurate, would have been conclusive of central issues in those cases, in Bassi an affirmative defense, and in Korleski the issue of agency. In stark contrast here, the plaintiff's "admission" that he injured his back in an accident at work was not similarly conclusive since it was not inconsistent with the position he took in the malpractice action and thus not an admission.

• 3 Plaintiff's position both in his pleadings and at trial was essentially that Dr. Odum's negligent chiropractic treatment aggravated a work related condition, causing additional injuries. The plaintiff never denied that he sustained some injury at work. He stated in his complaint that he slipped and fell on or about September 27, 1973, injuring his back and right leg, and testified at trial to the specifics of the work incident which prompted him to seek defendant's chiropractic care. Since the work incident was undisputed and the injuries for which plaintiff sought to recover were those which resulted from defendant's allegedly negligent chiropractic treatment, the evidence which defendant attempted to admit had no relevance to any issue at trial. Under these circumstances, we find that the trial court properly excluded defendant's evidence relating to plaintiff's workmen's compensation claim.

Defendant's last contention on appeal, that the plaintiff failed to establish the standard of care against which to measure his conduct, is factual in nature and requires a summary of the evidence presented at trial.

Carl Chamness, the plaintiff, testified that in 1968, as a consequence of an accident which occurred to him at work, he was operated on for a ruptured disc in the lower lumbar region of his back. This operation was successful and left a visible scar on plaintiff's back. Plaintiff returned to work after the ...


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