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12/20/89 Jeanne Hladish, A Minor, v. August Whitman

December 20, 1989





549 N.E.2d 5, 192 Ill. App. 3d 561, 139 Ill. Dec. 682 1989.IL.1984

Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County; the Hon. Roland A. Herrmann, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE REINHARD delivered the opinion of the court. UNVERZAGT, P.J., and INGLIS, J., concur.


Plaintiffs, Jeanne Hladish (Jeanne), a minor, and her parents, Ruth Ann Hladish and Edward M. Hladish (parents), filed a three-count complaint in the circuit court of McHenry County against defendant, August Whitman, seeking damages for injuries to Jeanne based on negligence, wilful and wanton conduct, and recovery for medical expenses incurred by her parents for the care and treatment of Jeanne. The trial court directed a verdict at the close of all the evidence in favor of all plaintiffs on the liability issue, and the jury returned a verdict for Jeanne in the amount of $100,000 and a verdict for her parents of $53,500 for medical expenses. The parents sought, in a post-trial motion, a judgment n.o.v. for the total amount of the medical bills submitted of $167,266.88 and, alternatively, sought an additur to increase the damages to $167,266.88, or a new trial on damages only. The trial court granted their request for an additur increasing the damages verdict to $167,266.88.

Defendant appeals from the judgment entered on both verdicts and raises the following issues: (1) whether the trial court erred in using additur to increase the damage award to the parents; (2) whether the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the definition of proximate cause; and (3) whether the trial court erred in directing a verdict on liability in favor of all the plaintiffs.

The facts relevant to the Disposition of this appeal may be briefly summarized. On November 7, 1982, at approximately 5:30 p.m., plaintiffs were occupants in an automobile traveling west on Elm Street in McHenry, Illinois. While plaintiffs' vehicle was stopped for a red light, a vehicle driven by defendant rear-ended plaintiffs' vehicle. The collision caused Jeanne Hladish, who was seated behind the driver, to strike the left side of her head on the window frame and the coat hanger device. She was 15 years old at the time of the accident.

Just prior to colliding with plaintiffs' vehicle, defendant collided with the rear end of another vehicle, but left the scene of that accident. According to Officer Mark Raz of the McHenry police department, defendant needed help in exiting his vehicle and had difficulty walking. There was a strong odor of alcohol emanating from defendant's vehicle, and Officer Raz believed defendant had been drinking. Defendant also defecated while in the squad car. At the police station, defendant admitted drinking beer, although he could not recall how much. According to Raz, defendant's balance was very shaky, his speech was slurred and garbled, and his eyes were very bloodshot. Defendant was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and subsequently pleaded guilty to that charge. Defendant admitted at trial to drinking eight glasses of beer between 2:50 p.m. and about 5:30 p.m. on the date of the accident. He further testified that he was not feeling well that day, that he did not recall seeing the Hladish vehicle before the collision or remember rear-ending the vehicle, and that he fell asleep or "something."

Jeanne testified that, following the accident, she and her family continued to their destination, but that she felt excruciating pain in her head, was nauseous, and applied an ice pack to her head. The following day she was seen by her pediatrician, who examined her and referred her to a neurologist. During the following year, Jeanne experienced severe headaches and missed 60 full days and 30 half days of school. According to Jeanne, during the time between the accident and May 1983 she experienced an average of 10 pain-free hours per week. She testified that she thought of taking her life because she thought she was not going to get better, that no one knew what to do with her, and that she was becoming a burden on her parents. She attempted suicide twice between the date of the accident and July 1984.

In December 1984, Jeanne began seeing Dr. Jan Fawcett, a psychiatrist, who prescribed medication for her migraine headaches. This was not effective, however, and she attempted suicide again in January 1985. She was subsequently hospitalized until July 1985. Following her hospitalization, she continued seeing Dr. Fawcett and began attending a special school which could accommodate her needs. She graduated from the school and was attending De Paul University at the time of trial. She was then 21 years old.

Dr. Fawcett concluded, after his initial consultation with Jeanne, that she had a significant depression which was exacerbated by her uncontrolled headaches and their effect on her life. He further concluded that there was a significant suicide risk because of her view of her future and because of the interference with her life. According to Dr. Fawcett, Jeanne had a history subsequent to the accident of unpredictable behavior which included deep depression one moment and not so bad the next and that such a condition is not uncommon in adolescence. He also believed that control of her headaches was essential to the future prevention of her depressions. It was clear to Dr. Fawcett that her headaches were one of the major causes, or at least aggravating causes, of her depression. In Dr. Fawcett's opinion, Jeanne's headaches were a result of the accident; they markedly interfered with her life and were the major precipitating factor in her depression. He further opined that it was necessary that she be hospitalized between January and July 1985 and that she be placed in a special school following her hospitalization. In Dr. Fawcett's opinion, she is at risk for recurrence of both headaches and depression for the rest of her life.

During cross-examination, Dr. Fawcett admitted that younger females generally have a much higher rate of depression. He further stated that depression may also result from a combination of biological vulnerabilities and stress, but that the actual causes of depression are not really known.

Dr. Kenneth Moore, a board-certified psychiatrist and neurologist, also testified by way of an evidence deposition. Dr. Moore treated Jeanne for her headaches. According to Dr. Moore, her headaches resulted in severe pain, sometimes lasting for days, and also consisted of knife-like or ice-pick-like pains that were brief in duration. Tests administered by Dr. Moore indicated that she was accurately reporting her pain. Dr. Moore opined that Jeanne's headaches were caused by the automobile accident. Defendant offered no expert witnesses or any evidence regarding Jeanne's headaches or depression. Plaintiffs submitted an itemized ...

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