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12/30/88 Gerald D. Crossman, Adm'r v. Jane A. Curless

December 30, 1988

CROSSMAN, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT

v.

JANE A. CURLESS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FOURTH DISTRICT

GERALD D. CROSSMAN, Adm'r of the Estate of Robert Russell

532 N.E.2d 1110, 178 Ill. App. 3d 97, 127 Ill. Dec. 281 1988.IL.1944

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Pike County; the Hon. Cecil J. Burrows, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court. McCULLOUGH, P.J., and SPITZ, J., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE KNECHT

On June 6, 1984, Robert Crossman was killed when the automobile he was driving collided with a car driven by the defendant, Jane Curless. The plaintiff, Gerald Crossman, brought this action in the circuit court of Pike County as administrator of the estate of Robert Crossman seeking damages under the Wrongful Death Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 70, pars. 1, 2). Prior to trial, the court granted plaintiff's motion in limine to preclude defendant from testifying in the presence of the jury to any conversation with the deceased or to any event which took place in the presence of the deceased in accordance with the Dead Man's Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 8-201). By agreement of the parties, the voir dire examination was not reported; however, plaintiff's counsel made an objection on the record to defense counsel's reference to the Dead Man's Act during jury selection. A motion for a mistrial was made on similar grounds. The jury returned a verdict for defendant and against plaintiff. Plaintiff's post-trial motion for a new trial was denied and plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

After the court granted plaintiff's motion in limine, defense counsel informed the court and opposing counsel he would be asking prospective jurors how they would feel if his client did not testify. No objections were made.

Jury selection took place without a court reporter present. After four jurors were selected, plaintiff's counsel made a recorded objection as to the form of a question defense counsel asked the four jurors. From the record it appears plaintiff's counsel would not have objected if defense counsel had merely asked the venire if they would be prejudiced against defendant if she did not testify. The objection arose when defense counsel apparently told the panel certain laws under the plaintiff's control would prevent defendant from testifying. The court overruled the objection, but ordered defense counsel to refrain from suggesting the plaintiff was in control of defendant's testimony.

To cure the possible ill effects of the questions already posed to the four impaneled jurors, defense counsel suggested the court read them the Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 5.02 (2d ed. 1971) (IPI Civil 2d), which explains why the defendant in a wrongful death case cannot testify in his own behalf. IPI Civil 2d No. 5.02 instructs that a defendant's failure to testify should not be considered either for or against him by the jury. Plaintiff's counsel agreed to such a premature reading of the instruction, but the trial declined to do so, saying "I think I'd just as soon tell them what the law is." Defense counsel agreed and plaintiff's counsel indicated "[that] would be fine."

The trial court's comments to the jury and the remainder of voir dire were not recorded and are not a part of the record on appeal. Various motions made by plaintiff's counsel after all the evidence was in and post-trial indicate the trial Judge read a portion of the Dead Man's Act to only four jurors.

At the Conclusion of plaintiff's evidence, defendant made a motion to allow the testimony of defendant under an exception to the Dead Man's Act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 8-201.) Defendant argued plaintiff had "opened the door" to defendant's testimony about the accident by introducing evidence of the same. The motion was denied. Following presentation of defendant's case in chief and in the presence of the jury, defense counsel said "I have an offer of proof as to [defendant's] testimony. We're going to take that up outside the presence of the jury." In the offer of proof defendant was allowed to testify in camera to a conversation with the decedent immediately prior to his death and her recollection of the circumstances surrounding the fatal accident. Defendant's motion for a directed verdict based on this evidence was denied.

Plaintiff then made a motion for a mistrial, arguing the combined effect of the improper questioning by defense counsel during voir dire, the partial reading by the trial Judge of the Dead Man's Act to only four members of the jury, and defense counsel's repeated insinuations that his client was restrained by the plaintiff from testifying had the effect of denying plaintiff a fair trial. The motion was denied. After the jury verdict the plaintiff reiterated these arguments in his unsuccessful post-trial motion for a new trial and again presents them to this court on appeal.

Defendant initially maintains plaintiff's complaints regarding the examination of potential jurors are waived because the voir dire proceedings were not recorded and are not ...


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