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June 1, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County. No. 90-L-125. Honorable James C. Franz, Judge, Presiding.

Released for Publication July 6, 1994.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mclaren

JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiff, Scott Urban, filed a complaint against the defendant, William W. Zeigler, seeking damages for personal injuries sustained in an automobile collision. A jury awarded the plaintiff $9,800 for medical expenses. No damages were awarded for aggravation of a preexisting condition, disability and disfigurement, pain and suffering, or lost wages. On appeal, the plaintiff seeks a new trial on the issue of damages on the basis that the jury's verdict was irreconcilably inconsistent and against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

A collision between the parties occurred on May 22, 1988, at approximately 1 p.m., at the intersection of Coral Road and Maple Road in McHenry County, Illinois. Coral Road is a two-lane road running east and west with one lane in each direction. Traffic traveling east and west on Coral Road is not required to stop at the Maple Road intersection as there is no stop sign. Traffic traveling north and south on Maple road must observe a stop sign at the Maple Road intersection.

Immediately prior to the collision, the plaintiff was traveling west on Coral Road, and the defendant was traveling north on Maple Road. As the plaintiff arrived at the intersection, he observed the defendant's vehicle pull away from the stop sign and in front of his vehicle. The plaintiff forcefully applied the brakes, skidded, and "violently" collided with the defendant's vehicle. The defendant's vehicle spun around and struck the rear of the plaintiff's vehicle. The plaintiff's vehicle slid into a ditch on the north side of Maple Road just west of the intersection and struck a street sign.

The plaintiff testified that his right knee hit the steering column when his body was thrown forward during the collision. The plaintiff's mother arrived at the scene and transported the plaintiff to the emergency room of Woodstock Memorial Hospital. The plaintiff was given crutches and a leg immobilizer which extended from his right hip to his ankle with an open area for his knee.

The plaintiff consulted with Dr. Steven Rochell, an orthopedic surgeon, three days after the collision. Dr. Rochell prescribed ice packs and advised the plaintiff to take aspirin and engage in stretching exercises. Although the plaintiff testified that he continued to experience pain in his knee during the summer of 1988, he worked at Walgreen as a stock person and cashier for the entire summer. He did not see Dr. Rochell or any other physician during that time.

The plaintiff testified that the condition of his knee deteriorated during the winter of 1988 and spring of 1989, as the knee became more painful and began to crack, snap, and pop. Nevertheless, the plaintiff continued part-time employment and engaged in physical education activities at school. It was not until April 1989 that the plaintiff resumed treatment with Dr. Rochell. However, he discontinued physical therapy at Woodstock Memorial Hospital after three weeks.

On June 29, 1989, Dr. Rochell performed arthroscopic surgery to the plaintiff's right knee. From August to October 1989, the plaintiff engaged in physical therapy at Woodstock Memorial Hospital approximately three times per week. He resumed therapy in January 1990 because the condition of his knee had become worse. Although the plaintiff admitted that the condition of his knee improved and the pain subsided since the surgery, he testified at trial that he continues to experience pain in his right knee when he goes up and down stairs or walks long distances. However, at the time of trial, the plaintiff had not consulted with a physician for the condition of his knee since February 1990.

Although the plaintiff testified on direct examination that he did not experience pain in his right knee prior to the collision, he admitted on cross-examination that he saw a physician in June and November 1987 due to a swollen condition in his right knee. The condition was later identified as right patellar tendinitis, or inflammation of the tendon which connects the patella to the front of the shin.

Dr. Michael Gonzalez, a board-certified physician in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, testified that he examined the plaintiff and reviewed his medical records. The surgical records reported the presence of patellar subluxation, meaning that the patella had been moving outside of its normal range, but no other structural abnormalities. Because of this fact, Dr. Gonzalez opined that prior to the collision the plaintiff suffered from "some degree" of patellar malalignment syndrome, wherein the patella is not in proper alignment. Because the plaintiff did not complain of pain in his right knee prior to the collision, Dr. Gonzalez opined that the collision aggravated the plaintiff's preexisting condition of patellar malalignment syndrome. The collision damaged the front of the knee, which, over a number of months, produced a scarring of the lateral retinaculum, thereby causing the patella to shift to the lateral side of the knee. The plaintiff's condition eventually led to chondromalacia patella, or softening of the cartilage surrounding the patella, which causes crepitus, or a cracking sound that occurs when the joint moves improperly. The arthroscopic surgery released the scarred lateral retinacula and returned the patella to its proper alignment. Dr. Gonzalez testified that his examination of the plaintiff subsequent to his arthroscopic surgery indicated no signs of crepitus, patellar malalignment syndrome, or chondromalacia patella.

Dr. Robert Hall, an orthopedic surgeon, testified for the defendant. After performing several tests on the plaintiff and taking his medical history, Dr. Hall concluded that the plaintiff's surgery was not related to the collision. Dr. Hall opined that the plaintiff was suffering from chondromalacia patella in both knees prior to the collision and that the surgery was performed to correct the preexisting condition. Contrary to the testimony of Dr. Gonzalez that the collision produced a scarring of lateral ...

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