Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois No. 97-L-66 Honorable John Donald O'Shea
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McDADE
Plaintiff, Floyd Hulbert, appeals from the denial of his motion for a new trial following a jury verdict awarding him damages for pain and suffering and for medical expenses but no relief for disability and for aggravation of a pre-existing condition. The Court finds no abuse of discretion by the trial court. The decision is affirmed.
On March 28, 1995, plaintiff, Floyd Hulbert (Floyd), was driving a car on Barstow Road in Rock Island County, Illinois, in which his wife, Louella Hulbert (Louella), was a passenger. Their vehicle was rear-ended by one driven by defendant, Richard York. They were seen at the emergency room at Illini Hospital and released. On the following day, Floyd took Louella to her doctor, Noel Lee, M.D. (Dr. Lee).
Although Dr. Lee had never previously examined or treated Floyd, he did order X-rays of his cervical spine on April 28, 1995, approximately a month after the accident. The X-rays were negative for any fracture, and Dr. Lee recommended a course of therapy which Floyd undertook. He returned to Dr. Lee on May 16, 1995, and was advised that, if his problems persisted, he should return for a "sed rate" which would show whether there was increased inflammation. Floyd did not complain further and no sed rate was ever taken. Floyd neither sought nor received additional treatment from Dr. Lee or any other physician during the four years preceding the trial. He testified that his pain resolved itself within eight to ten months.
Floyd, who was 68 at the time of the accident, had suffered since approximately age 17 from "ankylosis spondylitis"--a permanent and debilitating condition. Dr. Lee described the condition as
"a type of arthritic process that's related to rheumatoid arthritis that causes the spine to not be able to move. It fuses. Actually, it's a condition more of the ligaments adjoining the bones than the bones themselves."
During the years, traumatic incidents had exacerbated the effects of the condition.
Prior to April of 1995, Dr. Lee had never treated Floyd for the ankylosis spondylitis or for anything else. He had, however, had some opportunity for casual observation when Floyd had brought his mother and his wife in for medical care.
By contrast, Louella had been a patient of Dr. Lee since November of 1993. She suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure), arrhythmia (heart problem), asthma, and chronic degenerative cervical arthritis. She died on December 29, 1998 of a stroke unrelated to the accident. Louella's claims proceeded with Floyd serving as Special Administrator of her estate.
The claims of both Louella and Floyd were tried to a jury. The only medical professional who offered testimony was Dr. Lee. A judgment was entered in favor of plaintiffs and against Defendant on the issues of liability (primary and contributory fault) at the close of plaintiffs' evidence. The case proceeded and was submitted to the jury solely on the matter of damages.
During the course of their deliberations, the jurors sought and were provided with the deposition transcript of Dr. Lee. Using the prepared verdict forms, the jury made the following awards:
Aggravation of Pre-existing Condition $2,500 $0