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Chalmers v. City of Chicago





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. David Cerda, Judge, presiding.


This is a personal injury action arising from an automobile accident on May 22, 1973, between plaintiff, Nancy Chalmers, and Edward Meany, a police officer for the city of Chicago, who was driving a Chicago squad car at the time of the collision. Plaintiff filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County against the officer and the city of Chicago alleging wilful and wanton conduct by the officer. After the evidence had been presented, the trial court, over defendant's objection, allowed the complaint to be amended to include a count for negligence. The jury returned a verdict in open court in favor of the plaintiff and assessed damages as follows:

"We assess the damages in the sum of $1,705.99."

"We assess punitive damages in the sum of $13,000.00."

In answer to a special interrogatory, however, the jury found that Officer Meany was not guilty of wilful and wanton conduct. The trial judge accordingly entered judgment for plaintiff in the amount of $1,705.99. Plaintiff thereafter filed a post-trial motion supported by affidavits of 11 of the 12 jurors, 10 of which were notarized, asking the trial judge to enter a final order conforming the verdict to the intention of the jury to award $14,705.99 in compensatory damages, or in the alternative to reassemble the jurors and poll them regarding their intentions, or to enter an order for additur because of the inadequacy of the verdict, or to grant a new trial solely on the issue of damages. The trial judge denied all post-trial relief predicated on the jurors' affidavits, and the appellate court in the First District, noting that its decision was in conflict with the Third District's decision in Hunter v. Smallwood (1975), 28 Ill. App.3d 386, affirmed (92 Ill. App.3d 54). We allowed plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal.

The collision occurred at an uncontrolled intersection in Chicago on a rainy afternoon. Plaintiff testified that she was proceeding south on Paulina, a one-way street, at approximately 20 miles per hour, with two passengers in the front seat, one her two-year-old daughter. When she approached 85th Street, she indicated that she slowed to less than 10 miles per hour, saw a squad car approximately 100 to 150 feet to her right proceeding east, and continued through the intersection. As she was more than half way through the intersection she stated that her passenger, Patricia Knox, screamed that they were going to be hit, and when she looked to her right the squad car was 10 to 20 feet away, traveling at 45 to 50 miles per hour. She pressed the accelerator and the impact occurred. Mrs. Knox corroborated this testimony. Neither of her passengers was injured. Plaintiff was able to drive home but was subsequently hospitalized for two weeks for neck, arm and back injuries. The extent and duration of her injuries which were caused by this accident were in dispute in part because plaintiff was involved in a subsequent automobile accident as a passenger in which she sustained similar injuries, and also because plaintiff was impeached by her doctor's testimony and the medical reports. Plaintiff testified that she underwent a dilation and curettage procedure as a result of a miscarriage while she was hospitalized. However, the medical reports did not contain such information, and one of the treating physicians testified that in fact only a pap smear had been taken. There were also other discrepancies concerning her treatment and its length while she was hospitalized. She was released in good condition. She testified, however, that she was still suffering "ill effects" from both of the accidents.

Officer Meany's testimony conflicted with plaintiff's in several material respects. He stated that he was on an assignment in which he was following a driver who was involved in an accident while driving without a valid license. He indicated that he was proceeding east on 85th Street escorting the other driver to the station at about 15 miles per hour. He observed plaintiff's car approach the intersection and swerve to the right to avoid hitting the car in front of him. He slammed on his brakes, and the impact occurred. He estimated his speed at five to eight miles per hour at the point of impact. There were minor discrepancies between his testimony at trial and that given in a previous deposition. Defendant introduced a photograph of the police vehicle which showed the damage to be minimal; the headlights were not broken and the grill was not damaged. There was only a slight dent to the left of the headlight.

In his closing arguments, plaintiff's counsel asked the jury to return a verdict for $14,500, which he explained was the approximate total of medical expenses of $1,705.99 plus damages for the nature and extent of plaintiff's injury, temporary disability, and pain and suffering. He made no reference to punitive damages.

The affidavits upon which plaintiff relies were sent to each member of the jury by plaintiff's trial counsel following a conversation he had with individual jurors in which they allegedly indicated their mistake. In pertinent part, the affidavits stated:

"[I]t was the consensus of all members of the twelve person jury that the Plaintiff should receive the entire amount of $14,705.99 for medical expenses, nature, extent and duration of the injury, disability resulting from the injury and the pain and suffering experienced, and we were confused by the form of verdicts furnished to us and were unsure of how to return verdicts in accordance with our agreement; that we were uncertain if we could request communication with the presiding judge to obtain clarification of the instructions on how to return a verdict allowing recovery for the Plaintiff for medical expenses and compensatory damages; that since we did not request clarification we placed the $13,000.00 for compensatory damages in the blank reserved for punitive damages, believing it to mean damages for nature, extent and duration of the injury, disability resulting from the injury and pain and suffering experienced by the Plaintiff."

Plaintiff contends on appeal that the trial court erred in either failing to correct the verdict or grant a new trial. We do not agree.

It is well established in this State, and almost universally recognized, that a jury may not impeach its verdict by affidavit or testimony which shows the motive, method or process by which the verdict was reached. (People v. Preston (1979), 76 Ill.2d 274, 288; People v. Holmes (1978), 69 Ill.2d 507, 511; see also People v. Tobe (1971), 49 Ill.2d 538, 543; People v. Pulaski (1958), 15 Ill.2d 291, 300; Smith v. Eames (1841), 4 Ill. (3 Scam.) 76, 81; Fed. R. Evid. 606(b).) Thus, it is impermissible to challenge a verdict following the jury's discharge by explaining the basis for the jury's findings (Smith v. Eames (1841), 4 Ill. (3 Scam.) 76, 81) or by asserting that the jury was mistaken (Suver v. O'Riley (1875), 80 Ill. 104). Plaintiff argues, however, that jurors' affidavits are competent to correct an error in recordation in the nature of a clerical mistake. She relies primarily upon the Third District's decision in Hunter v. Smallwood (1975), 28 Ill. App.3d 386.

In Hunter, the court held that affidavits may be considered where the record itself shows that the jury is hopelessly confused or the affidavits tend to show that the verdict rendered and recorded was not the one agreed upon by the jurors. The record there indicated that the jury was confused by the verdict forms. Two lawsuits arising from an automobile accident were tried together and four forms of verdict, two for each claim, were submitted to the jury. Both drivers' fathers, who were the owners of the vehicles involved, sought property damages. The jury had twice sought clarification of the verdict forms from the presiding judge, but the judge deemed it inappropriate to confer with the jury outside the presence of the attorneys and accordingly denied its request. The jury returned a verdict against the owner, Smallwood, in the first action, thereby denying recovery for damage to his vehicle, and against his son, the driver, in the second action, thereby allowing recovery to the other owner for the damage to his vehicle. The verdicts so rendered were therefore entirely consistent with each other.

The affidavits of four of the six jurors, including the foreman, were submitted to the trial judge in support of defendant Smallwood's post-trial motion for judgment n.o.v. or a new trial. They stated that the jury was confused by the forms of verdict and intended to disallow recovery for property damage in either case. The appellate court, while conceding that it may be difficult to understand jury confusion on relatively simple verdict forms to the point of returning a verdict for $2,500 when it intended to deny recovery, nevertheless reversed and remanded for a new trial. Because no petition for leave to appeal was filed, we did not have the opportunity to review the precise holding in Hunter concerning jurors' affidavits, but it does not appear to be in accord with our subsequent decisions. See People v. ...

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