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Hawn v. Fritcher

November 04, 1998

PAULINE E. HAWN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JULIA K. FRITCHER, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

Appeal from Circuit Court of Coles County No. 95L38

Honorable Paul C. Komada,

In March 1995, plaintiff, Pauline E. Hawn, sued defendant, Julia K. Fritcher, for personal injuries resulting from an automobile collision in 1993. After the trial court made several preliminary rulings, a jury trial was held in October 1997 solely on the issue of damages, and the jury awarded Judge Presiding. Hawn $40,000. Hawn appeals, arguing only that the court erred by striking portions of her physician's testimony. The court ruled that the testimony was not sufficiently certain and conclusive to be admissible regarding the cause of Hawn's injuries. We reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

In March 1993, Fritcher failed to yield at a rural intersection and collided with Hawn's vehicle. Hawn incurred several injuries, including a cut and some tenderness on her left knee.

In March 1995, Hawn filed this suit. In February 1997, the trial court granted Hawn's motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability.

Shortly before trial on the issue of damages, the trial court granted Fritcher's motion to strike portions of the evidence deposition of Hawn's orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Gaylin Lack. In that deposition, Lack testified regarding a knee condition Hawn developed in 1994 that eventually required surgery in 1996.

Although Lack did not provide any specific treatment for the injury to Hawn's knee that occurred in the 1993 collision with Fritcher's vehicle, he did place her on crutches because her left hip also had been fractured in the collision. He also monitored Hawn's left knee during follow-up visits. A May 1993 magnetic resonance image (MRI) showed no structural abnormalities, and when Lack examined Hawn later that month, he noted that her knee "tenderness was better."

In September 1994, Hawn contacted Lack's office after hurting her back at work. During her subsequent visit, she complained that her left knee was once again tender. Lack diagnosed the knee condition as chondromalacia, a degenerative condition where the cartilage on the back surface of the kneecap becomes soft and rough, causing pain in the front of the knee.

In May 1995, Hawn first complained of pain in her right knee, and by November 1995, both knees had degenerated to the point where she had difficulty standing up out of a chair. Lack then prescribed work restrictions and physical therapy.

Hawn's knees improved until February 1996, when she returned to work. Then they became worse until, in April 1996, Lack recommended arthroscopic surgery to correct her chondromalacia.

Lack performed the surgery on Hawn's knees in April and June 1996. During the surgeries, he viewed the cartilage behind Hawn's kneecaps and confirmed that she had chondromalacia in both knees.

Both parties questioned Lack about the cause of Hawn's chondromalacia. During direct examination, Lack testified as follows:

"A. [Dr. Lack:] *** Its, its causes are varied. May arise de[ ]novo, without any specific known cause, may[ ]be as a result of an injury or trauma which most often, if it's related to trauma, it's due to a direct blow to the front of the knee, or the mechanism of pushing the knee cap back into the femoral condyles [(the end of the thigh bone)].

Q. [Hawn's attorney:] Do you have an opinion, Doctor, based upon a reasonable degree of medical and orthopedic surgery, whether the chondromalacia you've described might or could have been caused by the auto accident in which Hawn was involved?

A. The condition of chondromalacia could be caused by, by the mechanism of the auto accident in which the patella, or knee, would be contused [(bruised)], or a blow to the knee would be sustained.

Q. So is your opinion, as to whether it might or could have been caused by the auto accident, is your answer yes or no?

A. Yes, it could." Later, the following exchange took place:

"Q. [Hawn's attorney:] Now, Doctor, based upon a reasonable degree of medical and surgical certainty, do you have an opinion as to whether or not the conditions in Hawn's knees that required the arthroscopic surgery might or could have ...


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