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Richard Wayne Lambert and Billie Jo Lambert v. Tim Coonrod

March 5, 2012

RICHARD WAYNE LAMBERT AND BILLIE JO LAMBERT,
PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
TIM COONROD, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Macoupin County No. 09L23 Honorable Patrick J. Londrigan, Judge Presiding.

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

PRESIDING JUSTICE TURNER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Steigmann and Cook concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 In October 2010, plaintiffs, Richard Wayne Lambert and Billie Jo Lambert, filed a two-count complaint against defendant, Tim Coonrod, to recover damages for injuries sustained by Richard at Coonrod's residence. In February 2011, a jury found in favor of defendant and against plaintiffs.

¶ 2 On appeal, plaintiffs argue the trial court erred in (1) improperly denying admission of defendant's statement to Billie Jo and (2) admitting prejudicial photographs into evidence. We affirm.

¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 4 In August 2009, Richard filed a complaint in negligence against Coonrod after an October 2008 fall with injury on Coonrod's property. Richard alleged he was helping Coonrod with a project that required him to reach for a light above him. While mounting a coil spool, Richard fell backward and landed on the spool. Richard alleged Coonrod failed to provide a safe and stable platform from which he could work and failed to warn him that the spool he stood upon was or could be unstable and easily tipped. Richard alleged he sustained injuries to his left side and back, including a lumbar fracture and broken rib. In October 2009, Coonrod filed his answer and asserted the affirmative defense of contributory negligence.

¶ 5 In October 2010, plaintiffs filed an amended two-count complaint against Coonrod. Count I realleged the negligence claim pertaining to Richard's injuries. Count II set forth a claim of loss of consortium on behalf of Billie Jo. Count II alleged Richard's injuries deprived Billie Jo of the affections, society, companionship, and consortium of her husband. In December 2010, Coonrod filed his answer to the amended complaint.

¶ 6 In February 2011, Coonrod filed a motion in limine. In part, Coonrod asked the trial court to bar plaintiffs from referencing or suggesting to the jury that Coonrod offered to pay Richard's medical expenses. See 735 ILCS 5/8-1901 (West 2004); Ill. R. Evid. 409 (eff. Jan. 1, 2011). Plaintiffs objected, claiming Coonrod made a statement to Billie Jo that he was sorry about the incident and would take care of the expenses. Plaintiffs argued evidence of a defendant's offer or payment of a portion of a plaintiff's expenses is admissible as a statement inconsistent with the party's position at trial, where it was not part of any settlement negotiation or offer of compromise. The court found Coonrod's statement that he was sorry about the incident was admissible but testimony about payment of medical expenses was not.

¶ 7 In February 2011, a jury trial commenced. Prior to the start of the trial, plaintiffs' counsel made an offer of proof as to the alleged statement made by Coonrod. Billie Jo testified that while at the hospital on October 30, 2008, "Coonrod stated that he was very sorry that the accident happened, and he promised that we would have nothing to worry about and we wouldn't have to pay a dime of any expenses." Billie Jo stated Coonrod never used the phrase "medical expenses," and she understood his statement to include "anything in general that we needed help with."

¶ 8 Richard testified he has worked as a laborer for Aladdin Steel in Carlinville since 1998. He is married to Billie Jo, and they have two grown children. On October 30, 2008, Richard went to the home of his "good friend" to put up Halloween decorations that were stored in an 8-foot by16-foot shed. Some of the decorations were on the floor and others were in a loft, which was about six feet high. Richard stated Coonrod pulled a wooden wire spool over to the loft. The spool was approximately 24 inches in diameter and painted. Richard described it as "slick and shiny." Richard did not see a ladder or a step stool in the shed, and there was no built-in access to get to the loft. At one point, Coonrod stepped on the spool, grabbed a couple of boxes, and handed them to Richard. Coonrod then asked Richard to reach some items in the back. Richard stepped onto the spool and grabbed the edge of the loft. As he prepared to get into the loft, "the spool teetered." Richard then lost his grip and fell. He landed on the edge of the spool on his lower back and left side. Richard eventually was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Richard testified he was off work for eight weeks. He stated he was still stiff and sore with lower-back pain. He stated he has difficulty walking, hiking, and gardening.

¶ 9 On cross-examination, Richard acknowledged the spool was designed to hold wire and not for a person to stand on. He stated he did not check the stability of the spool before stepping on it. He also did not ask or look for a ladder. Richard returned to work on December 29, 2008, and continued in his steelworker position.

ΒΆ 10 Billie Jo testified she was at work on October 30, 2008, when she received a call from the police that her husband had been in an accident. At the hospital, Coonrod told her he was very sorry that the accident happened. Billie Jo also ...


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