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Cummings v. Chicago Transit Authority





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. THOMAS J. JANCZY, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Jon C. Cummings, Jr., brought this action against defendant, Chicago Transit Authority, seeking damages for injuries sustained in a collision between a CTA bus and another vehicle. A jury returned a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $147,000. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict and denied defendant's motion for a new trial. Defendant appeals. The following pertinent evidence was adduced at trial.

On January 18, 1973, at approximately 1:30 p.m., plaintiff was a passenger on a CTA bus operated by Johnnie Readus. As the bus proceeded south, it collided with the rear of another southbound vehicle operated by Mary Jakstavich.

Readus testified that the bus pulled up behind two automobiles stopped at a red light. When the light changed, the bus proceeded at a speed of four to five miles per hour. The lead vehicle turned into a service station at the southwest corner of the intersection. According to Readus, the Jakstavich vehicle, which was directly ahead of the bus, also attempted to make a right turn into the gas station without displaying a turn signal. Jakstavich stopped, moved forward, and stopped again. After Readus swerved to the left in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the vehicle, the right front bumper of the bus struck the left rear portion of Jakstavich's automobile. Readus testified that the impact was very light, and that the only damage to the bus was a slightly bent bumper. In response to Readus' question, all of the passengers stated that they were not injured.

Herbert Thompson, a passenger, testified that the bus was proceeding slowly, and that the impact was slight. No one complained of injury and Thompson did not observe anyone fall to the floor. A Chicago police officer and a CTA supervisor testified that the damage to both vehicles was slight. The officer characterized the accident as a "fender-bender."

Jakstavich, testifying for plaintiff, related that after entering the intersection, the driver of the vehicle ahead of her gave a right turn signal and turned slowly into the service station. Jakstavich, who was traveling at five to 10 miles per hour and who was not planning to enter the service station, applied her brakes. She estimated that the bus was moving through the intersection at approximately 20 miles per hour, but she did not know its speed at the time of impact. She further testified that the impact was hard, and that the rear portion of her automobile was "totaled."

Plaintiff testified that he was seated on the side bench directly behind the bus driver. While so seated, he suddenly felt two sharp jolts. His head hit a pole and he fell to the floor on the side of his back. He felt a sharp pain. After exiting the bus, instead of continuing on to work, he returned home. Plaintiff contacted a neighbor, who described him as dazed. In response to a telephone call from a neighbor, the police brought plaintiff to Chicago Osteopathic Medical Center. A doctor at the hospital told plaintiff to see his own physician and to stay off his feet for a few days. That evening, plaintiff began to experience a dull pain in his lower back. Plaintiff had asthma throughout most of his life but had no back problems prior to the accident.

One week later, plaintiff visited Dr. Donald Aaronson, an allergist who had treated plaintiff for bronchial asthma since 1965. After being informed of the accident and of plaintiff's pain in the back and head, Dr. Aaronson referred him to the orthopedic clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Although he never personally examined plaintiff's back, Dr. Aaronson testified that the back injury was the cause of plaintiff's disability.

Approximately one month after the collision, plaintiff was examined by Dr. William J. Kane, an orthopedic surgeon. Based on a myelogram, Dr. Kane found that plaintiff had a herniated or protruding disc at the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebra levels. Plaintiff's condition was permanent; the accident could have caused the disability; and plaintiff was unable to perform his work duties. In 1975, plaintiff was hospitalized to undergo a laminectomy. Surgery was postponed because in view of plaintiff's asthma problems, risk of death outweighed the benefits of the operation. Plaintiff could not expect relief without surgery. In 1978, surgery was discussed again because plaintiff's back condition had deteriorated. Future surgery would depend upon a balancing of risks and anticipated benefits. The present cost of a laminectomy would be between $7,000 and $10,000. Dr. John Romine, an orthopedic surgeon, treated plaintiff in 1973 and found a degenerative joint disease which probably existed prior to the trauma. The accident could have aggravated the symptoms.

Since 1966, plaintiff had been employed in the Youth Division of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Plaintiff returned to work two weeks after the accident. He testified that he continued working until October 1975, at which time he found he could no longer work due to his back pain. As a result of the accident, he expended approximately $1,800 for housekeeping services, and incurred $2,800 in medical expenses. His annual salary in 1975 was $13,600.

Ray Raymond, plaintiff's former supervisor, described plaintiff as a very dedicated, conscientious worker. He noticed that plaintiff had breathing difficulties but did not observe any back problems. Another supervisor, E. Torrence Fletcher, testified that prior to the accident, plaintiff was an energetic worker and did not complain about his back. After the accident, plaintiff's work attendance was erratic because of the back pain.

In December 1975, plaintiff received a nonoccupational disability retirement. The disability was granted on the basis of bronchial asthma and severe chronic lung disease. Dr. Aaronson was one of the certifying physicians.

The parties stipulated that according to mortality tables, the life expectancy of a 56-year-old nonwhite male was 66.6 years.

In addition to a general verdict for plaintiff, the jury answered in the negative a special interrogatory asking whether the negligence of a third person was the ...

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