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Noble v. Earle M. Jorgensen Co.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

May 22, 2013

BRENDA NOBLE, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
EARLE M. JORGENSEN COMPANY, d/b/a EMJ Metals and The EMJ Company, and MARK McCOLLUM, Defendants-Appellants.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 07-L-250 Honorable Robert P. LeChien, Judge, presiding.

Attorney for Appellants: Ronald A. Roth, Roth Law Offices, LLC

Attorneys for Appellee: Mark S. Schuver, William J. Niehoff, Mathis, Marifian & Richter, Ltd.

Justices Stewart and Cates concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Thomas M. Welch, Judge

¶ 1 This is a negligence action brought in the circuit court of St. Clair County by the plaintiff, Brenda Noble, against the defendants, Earle M. Jorgensen Company, d/b/a EMJ Metals and The EMJ Company (EMJ), and Mark McCollum, for injuries she sustained as a result of an automobile accident. On appeal, the defendants argue that the trial court erred in granting the plaintiff's motion in limine barring them from mentioning the plaintiff's prior low back injuries and treatment and a subsequent fracture in her low back following an unknown injury. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the decision of the circuit court.

¶ 2 On May 15, 2007, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendants for personal injuries that she sustained in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on June 3, 2005. The plaintiff alleged to have suffered the following injuries as a result of the accident: coccydynia (pain in the coccyx/tailbone); injuries to the sacroiliac joint, or SI joint (joint between the sacrum, which is a bone located above the coccyx, and the ilium, a bone in the pelvis); injuries to the piriformis muscle (muscle in the gluteal region that connects the tailbone to the greater trochanter of the femur); and injuries to the sacrococcygeal disc (located between the sacrum and coccyx).

¶ 3 Before trial, the plaintiff filed a motion in limine seeking to prevent the defendants from mentioning any injuries and medical treatment to portions of the plaintiff's body unrelated to the coccyx, sacroiliac joint, and piriformis muscle. Specifically, the plaintiff requested that the defendants be prevented from introducing the following evidence: medical records indicating that the plaintiff sought treatment from Dr. Robert Meinders, a chiropractor, in 1999 through 2003 for spinal-related conditions primarily involving the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions of her body; medical records indicating that the plaintiff had been diagnosed with low back pain in 2001 by Dr. Rachel Feinberg, also a chiropractor; medical records and deposition testimony from Dr. Adele Roth, the plaintiff's primary care physician, that she sought treatment for mid to low back pain in March 2005 after suffering a fall; and medical records indicating that a CT scan performed in May 2007 revealed that the plaintiff had suffered an old ununited anterior fracture of the superior end plate of L3 (located in the lower back). The plaintiff moved to bar admission of this evidence on the basis that the defendants had failed to present any medical or other competent evidence, as required pursuant to Voykin v. Estate of DeBoer, 192 Ill.2d 49 (2000), establishing a causal connection between the plaintiff's prior and subsequent medical conditions and the injuries that she complained of suffering as a result of the motor vehicle accident.

¶ 4 Thereafter, the defendants filed a response to the plaintiff's motion in limine, arguing that the plaintiff's complaint of low back pain could not be solely attributed to the automobile accident. In support of this argument, the defendants point to the following: (1) the plaintiff had sought treatment for chronic low back pain from 1999 until at least a few months before the motor vehicle accident; (2) the plaintiff's medical records indicated that she had complained of mid to low back pain, which felt like a "burning back pain, " after suffering a fall in March 2005 and deposition testimony from Dr. Pereira, a pain management specialist who treated the plaintiff following the motor vehicle accident, that pressure on a nerve in the low back or arthritis in the low back could cause a burning pain that could radiate down the leg; (3) a March 2005 X-ray report that indicated the plaintiff had a history of low back pain and pelvic pain and Dr. Pereira's deposition testimony that the pelvic area was in the same region as the sacrum and coccyx; and (4) medical records and deposition testimony indicating that the plaintiff had suffered a fracture to her lower back after the accident, which was revealed in a CT scan performed in May 2007.

¶ 5 The trial court granted the plaintiff's motion, but cautioned that the plaintiff could open the door to the testimony by discussing the general condition of her back as opposed to the more specific condition related to her lower back. In granting the motion, the court stated as follows:

"I do believe that this is the kind of case where the order limiting this type of testimony, the preexisting evidence, is appropriate because I think the doctors make it clear that it's not something for the lay person to sort out and that it is incorrect to–medically to conclude that the preexisting is the cause of or has anything to do with the claimed limited injury."

The unedited versions of the depositions of Dr. Pereira and Dr. Roth were admitted as offers of proof.

¶ 6 The following evidence concerning the plaintiff's injuries was adduced at the five-day jury trial. We will set forth only those facts pertinent to our disposition of the specific issues on appeal.

ΒΆ 7 The plaintiff was driving a Chevrolet minivan north on Route 159 in Belleville, Illinois, on June 3, 2005, when she observed a tractor-trailer stopped at a stop sign on Route 15 at the intersection of Route 15 and Route 159. Defendant Mark McCollum was driving the tractor-trailer for his employer, EMJ. As the plaintiff approached the intersection, she noticed that the tractor-trailer had started rolling forward. She was approximately two to three car lengths from the tractor-trailer when she noticed it moving forward. In an attempt to avoid an accident, the plaintiff "jammed" on her brake with her right foot, swerved, and honked ...


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