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Taylor v. Manhattan Township Park Dist.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. Charles P. Connor, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied December 12, 1985.

The plaintiff, Jeffrey Taylor, filed a complaint to recover damages from the defendant, Manhattan Township Park District (hereinafter park district). The plaintiff was injured while driving his motorcycle through a parking lot owned by the park district. The jury returned a verdict of $13,300 in favor of the plaintiff, but the award was reduced to $3,325 based on a finding that the plaintiff was 75% negligent. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that various evidentiary errors deprived him of a fair trial and that the jury improperly returned a compromise verdict. We affirm.

The evidence introduced at trial revealed the following facts. On July 6, 1983, the park district placed two telephone poles across a parking lot so as to prevent speeding by motorists and to direct traffic onto an access road to the park. On the night of July 8, 1983, the plaintiff went to the park to visit some friends. Upon leaving the park, the plaintiff drove his motorcycle through the parking lot and struck one of the poles. As a result of the collision, the plaintiff sustained a fractured skull and other injuries.

During closing arguments, the plaintiff requested the following amounts for damages: $8,000 for medical expenses; $10,000 for pain and suffering; and $25,000 for disability resulting from the injuries. The jury, finding that the plaintiff incurred $13,300 in damages, reduced the award to $3,325 on the basis that the plaintiff was 75% comparatively negligent. The plaintiff's motion for a new trial was denied, and the plaintiff brought the instant appeal.

• 1 On appeal, the plaintiff initially argues that the trial court erred in admitting a deposition statement made by one of the plaintiff's witnesses, Bradley Buzzard. At trial, counsel for the park district was allowed to introduce the following exchange from the deposition:

"QUESTION: Did you speak with Jeff after you got that subpoena?

ANSWER: I told him I got a subpoena to go to the Court for his stupid mistake."

The defendant argues that the witness' reference to the plaintiff's "stupid mistake" constituted opinion evidence as to the ultimate issue of the plaintiff's comparative negligence and was, therefore, inadmissible.

It is well established that a lay witness may not testify to his opinion on an ultimate issue in a case. (Allen v. Yancy (1965), 57 Ill. App.2d 50, 206 N.E.2d 452.) The purpose of such a rule is to preserve the independence of the trier of fact. Ballard v. Jones (1974), 21 Ill. App.3d 496, 316 N.E.2d 281.

We find in the case at bar that the disputed comment of the witness was properly admitted by the trial court. The deposition statement was introduced by defense counsel during cross-examination because the witness could not remember specific aspects of a conversation which he had with the plaintiff. Consequently, the purpose of the deposition statement was not to introduce opinion evidence on an ultimate issue but to simply show that the witness' lack of recall regarding the conversation conflicted with his prior statements. The disputed remark was, therefore, admissible because it constituted a proper basis of cross-examination.

• 2 The plaintiff next contends that the trial court erred in admitting evidence relative to the park district's "forlorn" economic condition. In support, the plaintiff alleges that the park district improperly elicited testimony that it has only so much money in a given year. The plaintiff also asserts that error was committed when defense counsel was permitted during closing argument to comment on the park district's alleged financial limitations. As the plaintiff correctly notes, evidence which relates to the wealth or poverty of a party is inadmissible. DiPaolo v. Johnson (1973), 15 Ill. App.3d 735, 305 N.E.2d 194.

In the instant case, the record does not support the plaintiff's contentions that the park district introduced evidence of its financial limitations and thereby prejudiced the jury. The comment that the park district has "only so much money" was in reference to the park district's various projects, and it was not elicited by defense counsel but was in response to a question posed by the plaintiff's attorney concerning the nature of the park district. We find, therefore, that the trial court did not err in allowing this testimony. We note also that it was the plaintiff who chose to question the same witness about the park district's taxing authority. The plaintiff cannot now object to the testimony which he himself sought to introduce.

We also disagree with the plaintiff's contention that the park district improperly commented on its financial limitations during closing argument. The plaintiff's assertion of error here is premised on the following ...

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