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Beckmeyer v. Alcala





Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. Stephen M. Kernan, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied August 13, 1985.

Plaintiffs, Thomas J. Lane and Carol Lutz, appeal from the denial of their motions for a new trial limited to the issue of the adequacy of the damages awarded by the jury in the circuit court of St. Clair County because of injuries received in an automobile accident. Plaintiff Gustav H. Beckmeyer, who received a similar verdict, has not joined in this appeal.

On November 11, 1980, an automobile driven by defendant, Theodore F. Alcala, struck from behind the automobile in which plaintiffs were riding as Lane was preparing to make a left turn across a single lane into a service station. Alcala's left front end struck the right rear end of Lane's automobile without warning. The impact caused Lane's vehicle to be pushed across the oncoming lane and to come to rest near the entrance to the station. Lane and Beckmeyer testified that the impact also caused the front seat to be thrown back, thereby necessitating later replacement of the seat frame and stationary bar. Other evidence of damage to the vehicles was described by the parties. The only immediate complaint of injury resulting from the collision came from Lutz, who was seated in the back and hit her head against the rear window as she was thrown back. Alcala also complained of immediate injury, but this resulted when Lutz walked over to him and punched him in the nose. Illinois State Trooper Paul Stygar issued Alcala a citation for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. Stygar testified, "It was a fairly routine-type accident in that I didn't have to summons [sic] a tow or ambulance, this sort of thing." After Stygar completed his investigation, plaintiffs returned to their car and resumed their trip to Nashville, Illinois.

During the return trip Lane experienced pain and stiffness in his neck. Lutz continued to have pain in her head. Upon their arrival in Nashville they went directly to Washington County Hospital emergency room, where they were examined by Dr. Thomas J. Coy. Dr. Coy ordered X rays for Lane and Lutz.

With regard to Lutz, Dr. Coy testified on deposition that she exhibited spasms on her cervicodorsal neck muscles. He observed a slight swelling on the top of her head. His review of her X rays also disclosed some straightening in an otherwise normal cervicodorsal lordotic curve, indicating an objective sign of injury to that area. He prescribed a muscle relaxant and advised limitation of activity, with instructions to report to his office in three days.

With regard to Lane, Dr. Coy testified by deposition that he complained of neck stiffness, headache and a cracking sensation in the left clavicular area. His examination revealed muscle spasms, tenderness and soreness in his cervicodorsal area. His X rays disclosed straightening of the normal lordotic curve and slight anterior wedging of the C-5 vertebra. The latter condition Dr. Coy attributed to a pre-existing problem. Dr. Coy prescribed an analgesic, a muscle relaxant and a cervical collar. He advised limited activity and instructed Lane to report to his office by the end of the week.

Lutz returned three days later, on November 14, 1980, and complained chiefly of discomfort in her upper back. Dr. Coy found that she had some paravertebral myospasm in the upper dorsal spine or just below the neck. He prescribed additional muscle relaxants and an analgesic, gave her units of adrenocorticotrophic hormone, and ordered physical therapy. Dr. Coy advised another visit within the week. Lutz returned one month later, December 15, complaining of pain in the upper dorsal spine. No complaint was recorded regarding the cervicodorsal area. Yet, Dr. Coy prescribed home cervicodorsal traction for relief of muscle spasms, and he administered some traction in the office. Lutz's next visit was on January 30, 1981, wherein she complained again of upper dorsal pain. By examination, Dr. Coy found that the muscle spasms persisted, so he continued her on muscle relaxants and pain relievers.

Lane also returned to Dr. Coy on November 14. He complained of stiffness and muscle pain, mostly in his neck but also in his upper and middle back. Dr. Coy diagnosed cervicodorsal and trapezoid muscle spasms. He prescribed adrenocorticotrophic hormone, a pain reliever and physical therapy. Lane returned as did Lutz on December 15, complaining of mid-dorsal back pain and shoulder pain. Dr. Coy's examination showed muscle spasm and tenderness. Lane's pain medication was refilled. Again Lane returned on January 30, 1981, complaining of pain in the dorsal spine. Dr. Coy prescribed more pain relievers.

After her visit of January 30, Lutz did not return to Dr. Coy for more than a year. She testified that she returned in May 1982 because of a numbness in her left-hand third finger and left foot. Dr. Coy's evaluation continued to show cervicodorsal myospasm. He referred her to the hospital for physical therapy. Lutz received heat pack treatments and ultrasound on three different occasions. She had further consultations with Dr. Coy in August, October, and December 1982, once for an injured foot unrelated to the instant traffic accident.

After his visit of January 30, 1981, Lane also went a year without treatment. He returned in February 1982, at which time Dr. Coy prescribed cortisone tablets to relieve muscle inflammation. Another visit followed in June 1982.

Lutz and Lane received additional X rays in July 1982 at the direction of Dr. Coy. Dr. Mina Edelman, a nontreating, board certified radiologist, took the X rays. At trial, she interpreted the several series of X rays taken of both patients. Regarding Lutz, Dr. Edelman testified that the loss of the lordotic curve was caused by muscle spasms, which was consistent with her injury resulting from the accident. Dr. Edelman offered her opinion that muscle spasm was still present. She further testified about her observation of an offset or slippage of the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and that the significance of that in this case was that it was indicative of torn ligaments between the spinous processes. Dr. Edelman opined that the forward slippage condition was permanent and that the only surgical correction available to Lutz is a spinal fusion. The radiologist concluded that Lutz's complaints of pain in her shoulder area are consistent with her radiographic findings.

Regarding Lane, Dr. Edelman testified that, in her opinion, he had suffered loss of the lordotic curve, which she attributed to muscle spasm caused by trauma. It was also her opinion that the accident could have caused the observed condition.

Following each of the plaintiffs' numerous consultations with Dr. Coy, each sought chiropractic care from Dr. James D. Cooper. From November 30, 1982, and from December 17, 1982, respectively, Lane and Lutz each received over 40 chiropractic treatments through October 11, 1983, almost all of which were scheduled on the same dates for both plaintiffs. Dr. ...

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