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Voykin v. Estates of Deboer

July 06, 2000

MARK VOYKIN, APPELLEE, V. ESTATE OF GORDON DEBOER, APPELLANT.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje

Agenda 15-March 2000.

This appeal presents the question of whether a defendant must present medical or other competent evidence of a causal or relevancy connection between a plaintiff's prior injury, prior accident, or pre-existing condition and the injury at issue.

BACKGROUND

This action arose from an automobile accident between plaintiff, Mark Voykin, and decedent, Gordon DeBoer. The evidence at trial established that, on January 31, 1996, decedent's car collided with the rear of plaintiff's car. Although plaintiff did not seek medical attention on the evening of the accident, the next morning, at his wife's suggestion, he sought treatment from Dr. Chinyung See for neck and back pain. Subsequently, in the circuit court of Lake County, plaintiff sued decedent for injuries suffered in the accident. After suit had been filed, but before trial, decedent died, and his estate was substituted as defendant.

During the trial, plaintiff sought to bar and defendant sought to introduce evidence that, in April 1991, approximately five years before the accident, plaintiff had suffered an injury to his lower back. Plaintiff argued that such evidence was not admissible unless defendant presented expert testimony demonstrating that the prior and present injuries were causally related. Defendant contended that expert testimony was not necessary because the injuries were to the same part of the body and continuity existed between the injuries. The trial court allowed defendant to question plaintiff and Dr. See about this prior injury and to introduce evidence relating to the treatment of plaintiff's prior injuries. The trial court also allowed defendant to introduce evidence that plaintiff had previously suffered "neck problems" and had been treated for carpel tunnel syndrome.

After defendant rested, the trial court granted plaintiff's motion for a directed verdict as to defendant's negligence. The court specifically stated, however, that it was not ruling on the questions of causation or injury. The jury returned a verdict in defendant's favor, and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict. In his post-trial motion, plaintiff argued that he should receive a new trial because defendant should not have been permitted to introduce evidence of plaintiff's prior injury without providing expert testimony to demonstrate a causal connection between the past and present injuries. The trial court denied plaintiff's motion, and plaintiff timely appealed.

The appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The court examined recent decisions from other districts of the appellate court and concluded that evidence of prior injuries should not be admitted unless the defendant presents "evidence of causation between prior and present injuries." 306 Ill. App. 3d 689, 695. The court further explained that expert testimony would normally be necessary if the injuries were "complex." 306 Ill. App. 3d at 696. Thereafter, this court granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315). We also granted the motions of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association to file briefs as amici curiae.

ANALYSIS

History of the Same Part of the Body Rule

The "same part of the body rule," a doctrine developed in the appellate court, permits a defendant to introduce evidence that the plaintiff has previously suffered injuries similar to those at issue. Brown v. Baker, 284 Ill. App. 3d 401, 404 (1996). Under the same part of the body rule, evidence of a prior injury is admissible without any showing that it is causally related to the present injury as long as both the past and present injuries affected the same part of the body. Brown, 284 Ill. App. 3d at 404. If the injury is not to the same part of the body, the defendant must demonstrate a causal connection between the current injury and the prior injury. Bailey v. Wilson, 299 Ill. App. 3d 297, 303 (1998); see also Elliott v. Koch, 200 Ill. App. 3d 1, 14 (1990).

Although this court has never addressed the applicability of the same part of the body rule, the appellate court universally applied the rule until 1996. At that time, the Appellate Court, Fifth District, reconsidered the rule. The court noted that, under the rule as it was currently being applied, a childhood knee injury could arguably be admissible in an action involving a later knee injury, "without any further showing of relevance or causation, even if the prior injury had completely healed and been symptom free for decades." Brown, 284 Ill. App. 3d at 404-05. The court concluded that such a rule of evidence invited the jury to speculate on the nexus between the prior and current injuries. Brown, 284 Ill. App. 3d at 405. The court concluded that, if the prior injury has "long since healed and has shown no recurring symptoms, a defendant should not be permitted to introduce evidence of the prior injury without establishing causation." Brown, 284 Ill. App. 3d at 405.

Subsequently, the First District relied upon Brown and concluded that, "absent competent and relevant evidence of a causal connection between the pre-existing condition and the injury complained of, evidence of the pre-existing condition is inadmissible." Cancio v. White, 297 Ill. App. 3d 422, 430 (1998); see also Lagestee v. Days Inn Management Co., 303 Ill. App. 3d 935, 946-47 (1999) (holding that "the defendant is required to present medical or other competent evidence of a causal or relevancy connection between plaintiff's prior injury, prior accident, or pre-existing condition and the injury at issue as a prerequisite of admissibility").

After Cancio was decided, the Fourth District reconsidered and reaffirmed the same part of the body rule. Bailey, 299 Ill. App. 3d at 304. In so doing, the court held that "[a]s long as there is some evidence of the nature, extent, duration, or treatment of the previous injury, an independent showing of causation is unnecessary." Bailey, 299 Ill. App. 3d at 304.

Plaintiff asks us to follow the reasoning of Brown, Cancio, and Lagestee and to discard the same part of the body rule. Defendant requests that we ...


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