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November 15, 1985


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leighton, District Judge.


This civil rights suit was brought by a father to recover for the death of his son who was shot and killed by a City of Joliet police officer. A jury returned verdicts and defendants have filed post-trial motions. One of the issues raised is whether this court erred in admitting evidence which allowed the jury to consider "the hedonic value of a human life" when it decided the damages to be awarded plaintiff for the wrongful death of his son.

An expert in economics was permitted to testify that in determining the value of a human life in such a case, a factor to be considered is the hedonic value which, according to qualified economists, is worth more than the economic value of that person. The jury awarded the father $450,000 for the loss of parental companionship with his son, $300,000 for economic loss to the estate, $1,700 for funeral expenses, and $850,000 for the value of the son's life. Defendants contend they were prejudiced by the testimony of the expert and that consequently, they are entitled either to a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a remittitur, or a new trial. This court does not agree. When a jury is shown that a person was wrongfully killed, and it is asked to award damages, evidence, including the testimony of an expert, is admissible to enable the jury to consider the hedonic value of the life thus taken.


On December 8, 1979, Ronald Sherrod was 19 years old. He lived in Joliet, Illinois, with his father, Lucien, and worked as a mechanic in a family-owned auto repair shop that did business as Sherrod's Auto Repair. He had an older brother, Tyrone, who also worked in the auto shop. Ronald had gone as far as the senior year at Joliet Central High School. He was not known to the police; he had never been arrested for, or charged with, a crime.

The Sherrods are Negroes. When Ronald was 12 years old, his mother died; and his father married his present wife, Sandra, a Caucasian woman. She, as a stepmother, took over the task of rearing Ronald and guiding him through school. Whenever she spoke of him, as she did in her testimony in this case, she called him "my son." Ronald was close to his father and to other members of his family; they all considered him a kind, loving, and companionable youth who enjoyed life.

Lucien Sherrod had plans for his future which involved Ronald and his brother, Tyrone. In August 1979, he spoke about their taking over the family garage business and running it. They informally agreed that Tyrone and Ronald would remain in Joliet, work in the garage, take care of expenses from gross income, and pay their father 50 percent of the net profits for his interest in the auto shop property and business. It was agreed that the turnover would take place early the next year, January 1980, and that Lucien, Sandra, and the younger members of the family would move to Savanna, Illinois, a rural community northwest of Joliet where the Sherrods owned a home. As a boy growing up, Ronald had been there with his father on hunting and fishing trips.

December 8, 1979 was a Saturday; the weather was clear and cold, it was typical of a day early in the oncoming Christmas shopping season in Joliet. That afternoon, shortly after 3:00 p.m., Ronald was working on a car, doing "a tune-up" with a part-time mechanic, Chuck Doran. Also at work were Tyrone and another employee, O.J. Smith. At about 3:17 p.m., a distance away from the Sherrod body shop, and unknown to anyone there, Jim Youngquist and his wife, Janet were in the basement area of their plants and gift shop called "Ziggy's." They heard a noise that sounded like some coins dropping on the floor from the cash register and heard footsteps along with the doorbell ringing.

Janet Youngquist ran upstairs. As she did, she saw a man dash out of the shop, and noticed that the cash register had been rifled: between $50 and $80 had been taken. She followed the man; he became excited, dropping to the ground the money he had taken from the cash register. A woman next door called the police, and at about a minute after 3:17 p.m., they sent out a radio alarm reporting that "some kind of robbery" had occurred at Ziggy's. The man Janet Youngquist saw was Gary Duckworth who was well known to Joliet police, but who had never been known to commit a violent crime. Janet Youngquist saw him run toward a car parked not far away; but he continued on, out of her sight.

At about 3:40 p.m., Duckworth entered the Sherrod Auto Repair Shop while Ronald Sherrod was still working on the tune-up. He asked Ronald and Chuck Doran if one of them would help him start his car which he said was parked some distance away. Ronald asked Doran to take over the tune-up job; he agreed to drive Duckworth to get his car started. Ronald and Duckworth entered a black Cadillac sedan which Lucien Sherrod had purchased for his son sometime before, second hand. The two left the auto shop.

When the first radio alarm went out reporting that there had been "some kind of robbery at Ziggy's," Joliet police officer Willie Berry was having a late lunch at a friend's home. He heard the transmittal through a radio unit he carried. Berry was on a patrol assignment, driving a police Scout; with him was a rookie policeman, Richard Klepfer. Shortly after 3:30 p.m., Berry and Klepfer resumed their patrol duties; as they did, there was another police transmission which described the man who had entered Ziggy's earlier and rifled the cash register; it stated that the police believed his name was James Lee. However, Berry told Klepfer that, in his opinion, the description was of Gary Duckworth whom he knew. He went on to suggest that they join the investigation of the crime at Ziggy's.

Berry then drove the Scout past Ziggy's; but when he saw nothing of significance, he proceeded onto Waverly Avenue in the 900 block. The street was in "a part business part residential white area." As Berry proceeded, he saw a black Cadillac sedan, the car driven by Ronald Sherrod with Gary Duckworth, as a passenger. Because of the area, it being "a white neighborhood," Berry became suspicious of the vehicle. He saw it slowly leave a parking lot next to a bank that was closed, as it was late Saturday afternoon. The car was not speeding; it was not engaged in any evasive maneuver; nor was anyone in it committing any act that was either unlawful, illegal, or threatening to anyone.

When the Cadillac was about 100 feet from the Scout, Berry recognized Duckworth; he told Klepfer to "watch that car." Then, as the Cadillac neared, he signaled the driver to stop. Berry drew out his Smith and Wesson city-issued revolver; Klepfer drew his; and the two police officers approached the vehicle. Berry, using street vulgarities and profanities, shouted to the occupants of the car, "Get your hands up! Get your M____ F____ hands up!" The two men complied; Berry then approached the driver from the left side of the vehicle, holding his pistol pointed at Ronald Sherrod's left temple. Berry said later, and has testified, that as he looked, he saw Ronald Sherrod raise his right hand and moved it toward the left pocket of his jacket. At that, Berry pulled the trigger of his pistol, shooting Ronald Sherrod in the left temple, killing him instantly. When his body was examined by Berry, Klepfer, and other Joliet police officers, Ronald Sherrod had a cigarette lighter in the left pocket of his jacket; in the right-hand pocket was his driver's license. No weapon of any kind was found either in or near the car, or on Duckworth. The news report of the killing stated that the police suspected Ronald of being a robber. A coroner's death certificate that was issued later recorded that Ronald Sherrod was suspected by the police of having been a robber. There was no factual basis for these suspicions.

Because of this fact, Sandra Sherrod, accompanied by a friend of long standing, went to the office of Frederick Breen, the Joliet Chief of Police, asking that "the name of my son be cleared" by removing the insinuation that Ronald Sherrod was suspected by the police of having been a robber, and that disciplinary action be taken against Berry. Her request was refused; she went to Breen's office a number of times later, always with the same ...

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