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Baker v. Hutson

August 20, 2002

MARY E. BAKER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
BRADLEY R. HUTSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County. No. 97-L-178 Honorable William G. Schwartz, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Maag

Amended and released for publication September 19, 2002.

MARY E. BAKER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
BRADLEY R. HUTSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County. No. 97-L-178 Honorable William G. Schwartz, Judge, presiding.

Attorney for Appellant Brad K. Bleyer 400 West Jackson Street, P.O. Box 1001 Marion, IL 62959

Attorney for Appellee John Womick, Womick Law Firm, Chtd. 1100 W. Main Street, P.O. Box 1355 Carbondale, IL 62903

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Maag

PUBLISH

Mary E. Baker (plaintiff) filed an action against Bradley R. Hutson (defendant) alleging that she suffered personal injuries arising from an automobile accident caused by defendant's negligent operation of his motor vehicle. Defendant admitted negligence and the case proceeded to a trial on damages. At the close of the evidence, the circuit court of Jackson County directed a verdict in favor of plaintiff on the issues of causation and past medical expenses, and it assessed $8,632.90 as the reasonable expenses for necessary medical care. The remaining elements of damage were submitted to the jury, which assessed an additional $42,000 in damages for future medical care, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and disability. On appeal, defendant claims that the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict on the issues of causation and past medical expenses and in giving a jury instruction and a verdict form that combined "disability" and "loss of a normal life" as an element of damages.

The cause arises from a motor vehicle accident that occurred on January 23, 1996. Defendant's negligence was not disputed. During the trial, defendant testified that he failed to stop at a red light at an intersection in Carbondale, Illinois. Defendant stated that his vehicle struck the passenger side of plaintiff's vehicle.

Plaintiff was transported by ambulance to Carbondale Memorial Hospital. She was examined by Dr. Sharon Pelton, an emergency room physician. Following an extensive evaluation, plaintiff was released. Plaintiff, then a student at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, was instructed to return to the emergency room immediately if her symptoms worsened. She was also instructed to return to the emergency room or to go to the Southern Illinois University (SIU) clinic in a few days for a precautionary follow-up evaluation. Plaintiff testified that she did not remember the accident and had a limited recollection of being treated in the emergency room. She testified that she did not recall receiving any instructions to return for a follow-up evaluation.

Within a few days of the accident, plaintiff hired the Womick law firm to represent her. A member of the firm referred plaintiff to a chiropractor, Dr. Brian Woodard. Plaintiff saw Dr. Woodard on a regular basis for four or five months. She was released in June 1996 without restrictions. Plaintiff had no treatment from mid-June 1996 through the spring of 1997. Plaintiff testified that her symptoms began to increase in May 1997. She complained of headaches and stiffness and soreness in the neck and upper back region. Because of the worsening of symptoms, she began to treat three times per week with Dr. Stephen Zasadny, a chiropractor who had treated her parents. At the time of the trial, plaintiff was treating with Dr. Zasadny about once every six weeks for maintenance and to quell her symptoms. Plaintiff testified that the treatment temporarily alleviates the headache and the neck stiffness. She stated that the discomfort returns within four to six weeks after a treatment. Plaintiff also stated that the soreness in her neck and the headaches worsen when she is more active. Plaintiff testified that she was evaluated in March 2001 by Dr. David Birnbaum, a family practitioner in Chicago, Illinois, at her lawyer's direction. After the evaluation, Dr. Birnbaum prescribed a muscle relaxer. Plaintiff testified that the medication seemed to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

At the time of the trial, plaintiff was receiving periodic chiropractic treatment and taking the medication to control her symptoms. Plaintiff testified that she continues to work and to carry on her usual activities, but she noted that she does not have the flexibility and movement that she had before the accident. She stated that she limits her lifting and other strenuous activities to avoid aggravating her symptoms.

During cross-examination, plaintiff admitted that she did not return to the emergency room or visit the SIU clinic. Plaintiff stated that she retained a lawyer before she obtained follow-up medical care and that she was referred to Dr. Woodard by her attorneys. She also admitted that during the first visit to Dr. Woodard she filled out a patient questionnaire. In response to a question about the purpose of her visit, she wrote, "to find any injuries due to the automobile accident".

The depositions of Dr. Woodard and Dr. Birnbaum were read to the jury as a part of plaintiff's case. Dr. Woodard testified that he took X rays and examined plaintiff. Based upon the evaluation, Dr. Woodard concluded that plaintiff had suffered soft tissue injury to her neck and upper back. He treated her with chiropractic manipulation and electrical stimulation therapy. A few months later, he instituted a rehabilitative program in addition to the ongoing chiropractic treatments. The rehabilitation was designed to strengthen the injured muscles. Dr. Woodard released plaintiff in June 1996 with a favorable prognosis. Dr. Woodard testified that plaintiff was "95% improved", but he expected that she would have periodic exacerbations of her symptoms. During cross-examination, defendant questioned Dr. Woodard about the necessity of obtaining additional X rays, given that plaintiff had been X-rayed days earlier in the emergency room. Defendant also questioned the number and the nature of the treatments provided to ...


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