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Ford v. Herman

October 04, 2000

JEFFREY FORD AND GRACE FORD,
PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
V.
WILBERT HERMAN,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 96-LM-1439 Honorable Randall A. Bono, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

The defendant, Wilbert Herman, appeals from the trial court's March 5, 1999, order denying his posttrial motion. We affirm.

Facts

On August 19, 1996, Wilbert Herman (Herman) was working with others doing home construction. At the end of this particular workday, the men planned on waiting at the job site until the property owner arrived. While waiting, Herman left the site temporarily, returning with a 12-pack of beer he had just purchased. Herman admits to having consumed eight or nine of those beers in the following 90 minutes. The property owner never arrived, and although Herman realized that he was intoxicated, he decided that he would drive his motor vehicle home. Unfortunately, Herman did not make it home without incident.

Herman rear-ended another vehicle driven and occupied by Jeffrey and Grace Ford (Jeffrey, Grace, or the Fords). As Herman drove down a busy street in Granite City, he noticed a vehicle in front of his, which later turned out to be that of the Fords, and further noticed that this vehicle was approaching a traffic signal that had just turned from green to yellow. At that moment, Herman dropped a cigarette, instinctively bent to retrieve it, and in so doing took his eyes from the roadway. When he next looked up, the Fords' vehicle was stopped, and Herman realized that he had not enough time and space to safely bring his vehicle to a stop behind their vehicle. Herman slammed on his brakes, skidded 20 feet, and ultimately rear-ended the vehicle.

Jeffrey testified that he had the vehicle's window down and that he heard no tires squeal or any other sound indicating that a collision was imminent.

As a result of the accident, both Jeffrey and Grace sustained bodily injuries and associated damages. Jeffrey sustained left shoulder, neck, and left wrist injuries. Grace sustained a right shoulder injury and aggravations of pre-existing injuries to her neck and lower back.

Following the wreck, Herman was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The August 19, 1996, DUI to which Herman pled guilty was his third. His first DUI was in February 1974 and his second was in September 1975. Not dissuaded by this accident and its related arrest, Herman continued to drive while intoxicated, picking up his fourth DUI in December 1996 and his fifth on January 1, 1999.

The Fords filed their suit for damages against Herman arising out of the August 19, 1996, accident on December 20, 1996. Herman was insured by Gallant Insurance Company (Gallant) with applicable bodily injury limits of $20,000 per person. Pursuant to his contract with the carrier, Gallant provided Herman with legal counsel.

On October 29, 1997, the trial court entered its case management order setting forth a discovery schedule and setting the case for trial on September 8, 1998. The case management order did not specifically set forth a date on which discovery was to cease. The case did not get reached for trial during the week of September 8, and so on September 25, 1998, the trial court reset the trial date for January 11, 1999.

On October 27, 1998, the Fords filed a motion seeking to amend their complaint to add a punitive damages prayer pursuant to section 2-604.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-604.1 (West 1996)). On November 20, 1998, the trial court granted this motion.

On November 3, 1998, Herman filed a motion seeking to have the Fords examined by a physician chosen by Herman pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 215 (166 Ill. 2d R. 215). On November 20, 1998, the trial court denied this motion.

The case went to trial on January 11, 1999. At the pretrial conference, the trial court heard numerous motions in limine filed by both parties. Herman's motion seeking to keep the jury from hearing evidence of his prior and subsequent DUIs was denied.

Following the trial, the jury returned a verdict for Jeffrey in the amount of $49,728 for his damages and a verdict for Grace in the amount of $28,965 for her damages. The jury also returned a verdict for the Fords awarding them $6 million in punitive damages.

Following the trial court's March 5, 1999, denial of Herman's posttrial motion, Herman appealed.

Motions

As a preliminary matter, we must address motions renewed at oral argument that we ordered taken with the case. The Fords seek the dismissal of this appeal on mootness grounds. Gallant seeks to conditionally intervene. Following oral argument, the Fords filed a supplemental memorandum in support of a motion to reconsider this court's order denying their motion to dismiss appeal. In response to the Fords' oral motion, Gallant renewed ...


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