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12/04/89 Peter T. Valiulis, v. Milo Scheffels

December 4, 1989





547 N.E.2d 1289, 191 Ill. App. 3d 775, 138 Ill. Dec. 668 1989.IL.1872

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. John E. Sype, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE DUNN delivered the opinion of the court. McLAREN and REINHARD, JJ., concur.


The litigation in the case at bar arose from a collision between an automobile driven by Peter Valiulis and a Rockford police car driven by Officer Milo Scheffels, Jr., on June 30, 1983. Steven Falls, a passenger in the Valiulis car, filed suit against Valiulis, Scheffels, and the City of Rockford (City). Valiulis filed suit against Scheffels and the City. The two cases were consolidated for a trial. The trial court entered a directed verdict in favor of Scheffels and the City in both cases, and the jury entered an award in favor of Falls and against Valiulis, in the amount of $2 million. Valiulis now appeals and raises the following issues: (1) whether certain testimony given by Dr. William Hovepian, a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist, was beyond the realm of his expertise; (2) whether Falls presented sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that he suffered from multiple sclerosis at the time of the accident, and the resultant trauma caused the onset of the symptoms of the disease; (3) whether the trial court erred by allowing certain testimony from an economist concerning the average lifetime income of college graduates; and (4) whether the trial court erred by entering a directed verdict in favor of Scheffels and the City. We affirm.

Officer Scheffels testified that at the time of the accident he was on duty as a patrol officer for the Rockford police department. At about midnight on the day in question he was inside the Rockford Public Safety Building near the front desk when he received a silent alarm call from the West End Tap on the 1500 block of West State Street. Scheffels had previously responded to other silent alarms from the West End Tap in situations where fights, shootings, and armed robberies had taken place there. Scheffels did not know at the time he received the call what the nature of the trouble was; he only knew that someone at the bar had requested police assistance.

Scheffels went to his squad car and proceeded to drive to the tavern, which was 11 or 12 blocks away. He activated the red lights on his squad car and the automatic siren. Scheffels testified that it had been raining that evening and the roads were wet. He believed it was still raining at the time he left in his squad car and that he put on his windshield wipers. Scheffels turned from Rockton Street onto West State Street. At that point, he turned off his siren in order to communicate by radio with an officer in another squad car that was responding to the same call. The other officer wanted to know Scheffels' location so they could arrive at the same time, in order to assure that neither would get into a difficult situation on his own. Arriving at the same time would also make it easier for the officers to block all exits and prevent a possible escape if a crime was in progress. Scheffels stopped talking to the other officer when he was about a block from the scene of the accident. He did not immediately reactivate his siren at this time because he was only five or six blocks from the West End Tap and did not wish to alert any potential perpetrators of crime inside that the police were approaching.

Scheffels was traveling westbound on West State Street. He saw a car that had been parked on the 1000 block of West State Street start to pull out in front of him. Scheffels testified that he was in the vicinity of a bridge across Kent Creek when this occurred, and the car, a Volkswagen Rabbit, was about 100 feet away when he first noticed it was pulling out. Scheffels applied his brakes and was not sure whether or not they locked. He swerved to the left into the eastbound lane in an effort to avoid colliding with the Rabbit. The Rabbit continued to pull out, however, and was apparently attempting to make a U-turn. The two cars collided in the eastbound lane of traffic. The front of the squad car hit the driver's side of the Rabbit. Scheffels stated that he attempted to reactivate his siren just before the impact.

According to Scheffels, he encountered no traffic on West State Street that night other than the Rabbit. Scheffels estimated that his maximum speed while traveling down West State Street was 40 to 45 miles per hour. He believed he was going about 30 to 35 miles per hour just before impact. Scheffels stated that from the point he turned onto West State Street, he had a clear view to the point of the collision.

Neither Valiulis, the driver of the Rabbit, nor Falls, the passenger, had any memory of the accident. A married couple, Mark and Tammy Burke, did witness the collision, however. They were both standing on a sidewalk about two or three blocks east of where the accident took place. Mark Burke testified that the squad car passed right by them. The car's emergency lights were flashing, but neither of the Burkes heard a siren. Mark was not sure how fast the car was going, although he believed it was going over 30 miles per hour. Tammy was also not sure how fast it was going, although she stated it was going faster than the speed limit. She heard the sound of the engine accelerating as the squad car passed them.

Tammy admitted that on October 19, 1983, she signed a written statement in which she said the squad car may have been going as fast as 50 to 55 miles per hour. Mark acknowledged that during his deposition on January 15, 1985, he admitted signing a written statement in which he said the squad car was going at least 60 miles per hour. Mark testified further at trial that he saw no other cars moving down West State Street, and he saw the squad car move to the left as the Rabbit pulled out. Mark also thought the squad car was accelerating until the Rabbit pulled out. He testified further that it was a straight stretch down the street from the point where the squad car passed them to the point of the accident.

Marjorie Falls, Steven's mother, testified that he was in excellent health before the accident and that he was considered an excellent athlete in several sports. Steven suffered a fractured clavicle, a ruptured spleen, and a concussion in the collision. According to Marjorie, Steven was incoherent the first time she saw him after the accident and did not know who he was. Steven remained in the hospital from June 30 until July 8 or 9 and then stayed with his parents until the end of July.

Marjorie testified that in July 1983, Steven complained that the fingers on his left hand were tingling. His chest was also bothering him. Steven went to see Dr. Henry Anderson, the family physician, in October 1983, and Dr. Anderson advised him to see a neurologist if the problems persisted. Steven saw Dr. Sturnum, a neurologist, in November.

Around Thanksgiving time in 1983, Marjorie noticed that Steven had trouble getting up from a sitting position at the dinner table. In order to get up, he would spread his hands out on the table and push himself up until he was standing on tiptoes. At this point, his legs would quiver for a little while, and then he would be all right.

Although Steven was an accomplished skier, after he went skiing in January 1984, he told Marjorie that he had difficulty maintaining his balance. Steven graduated from Rock Valley College, a two-year college, during the summer of 1984. He began attending Illinois State University in the fall of 1984 and completed one semester there. When Steven returned home from school for Christmas that year, Marjorie noticed that his balance was very poor while he was walking. Marjorie took him to see Dr. Terry Roth in January 1985 because of his continuing problems.

Steven returned to Illinois State for his second semester, but was forced to withdraw and return home in March 1985 because of his difficulties with balance and coordination. Marjorie testified that he was no longer able to ride a bicycle. In April 1985, he was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis . Since that time, Steven received treatment at the University of Chicago hospital.

Marjorie testified that Steven was currently able to walk short distances using crutches, but had to use a wheelchair most of the time. His arms and hands were very weak, and his hand coordination was poor. Steven tired very easily, and his speech was often slurred. During his initial hospitalization for MS, Steven temporarily lost his vision in one eye. When he became tired, he would sometimes suffer from double vision.

Marjorie also testified that in September 1983, her husband was diagnosed as having cancer of the colon, a terminal illness. She stated that this had caused a considerable amount of stress for the entire family, including Steven.

Some friends and acquaintances of Steven testified about some of the difficulties he was having after the accident. Ben Mosbach had known Steven for 24 years, since Steven was three years old. He often saw Steven at a swimming pool in Rockford. He testified that Steven appeared to be in excellent physical condition prior to the accident. Around November or December 1983, he noticed that Steven was no longer keeping his fingers together while swimming. He also noticed that Steven was no longer doing his flip-turns properly. Thomas Gobel, a friend of Steven's, noticed ...

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