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Canopy v. Hentz

January 21, 2004

[5] ROBERTA J. CANOPY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JASON L. HENTZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Tazewell County, Illinois No. 00-L-114 Honorable Richard E. Grawey Judge, Presiding

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Schmidt

[8]  A jury found for the defendant, Jason L. Hentz (Hentz), and against the plaintiff, Roberta J. Canopy (Canopy), in a personal injury action stemming from two-vehicle motor vehicle accident. The trial court granted Canopy's motion for a new trial. Because no jury demand was on file, a bench trial was held. The trial court found for Canopy and awarded damages in the amount of $50,000. Hentz now appeals the trial court's granting of the motion for a new trial. We reverse.

[9]  On August 28, 1998, Hentz's 1984 Ford LTD struck the rear of the 1984 Chevrolet Chevette in which Canopy was a passenger. The Chevette was stopped to make a left-hand turn, and the LTD was behind it, also preparing to turn left onto Route 29.

[10]   The driver of the Chevette, the plaintiff's ex-boyfriend, Joe Simmons (Simmons), stated that he saw the LTD stopped a few feet behind him prior to the accident. Before he was able to make his turn, the vehicles collided.

[11]   Testimony at trial made it clear that two significant issues were disputed between the parties. The first difference of opinion centered around the severity of the impact. The second dispute focused on what, if any, injuries the plaintiff suffered as a result of the accident.

[12]   THE IMPACT

[13]   The plaintiff and Simmons characterized the impact as severe. Simmons claimed the impact caused his vehicle to "nose-dive" and noted it was a "pretty good jolt." He also testified that the impact caused damage to the driver's side rear taillight and bumper. The plaintiff, when discussing the impact, stated, "all of a sudden, just wham, and the car did -- I was looking at the pavement instead of the car hood, and I thought we were flipping over into the road." She further stated that she "thought we were going upside down and being shoved out into" traffic. When asked if the impact did any damage to the car in which she was riding, the plaintiff stated, "I didn't give a shit about the car." Further questioning revealed that at some point she did inspect the car and that the car was never taken in for any repairs following the accident.

[14]   The defendant and passenger in the defendant's car characterized the impact as minimal. The defendant testified that he was stopped behind Canopy's vehicle at a stop sign. He thought the Chevette had begun to turn into the intersection. He took his foot off the brake, but he was not certain whether or not he began to press on the accelerator. He looked down, and when he looked up Canopy's vehicle was stopped. He applied his brake, but his car struck Canopy's.

[15]   The testimony of Hentz's passenger was consistent with Hentz's testimony. Hentz's father testified that he took pictures of the Ford that Hentz was driving shortly after the accident.

[16]   Photographs of both vehicles were entered into evidence. They showed no damage to the LTD and minor damage to the Chevette. The rear bumper of the Chevette was bent slightly down and in on the driver's side; the photographs revealed no damage to the taillight or the rear of the vehicle.

[17]   THE INJURIES

[18]   The plaintiff claimed significant injuries from this accident presenting medical bills totaling over $14,000.

[19]   Simmons testified that the plaintiff complained that her neck hurt immediately after the accident. After the accident, both cars proceeded to a nearby parking lot, and the police were called. Simmons did not remember if Canopy got out of the car while they were in the parking lot.

[20]   Plaintiff testified that she did not strike anything in the car upon impact. She had no visible physical manifestations of injury, such as bumps, cuts or bruises. However, she noticed her neck hurt immediately after the impact. She went on to state that as they waited for the police in the parking lot, her neck got stiffer and stiffer. On the drive home, she wanted her ex-boyfriend to "quit hitting the bumps" because "every bump hurt." While in the parking lot and on the drive home after the incident, the plaintiff's description of ...


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