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Peach v. McGovern

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

December 12, 2017

WILLIAM KEVIN PEACH, Plaintiff-Appellant,
LYNSEY E. MCGOVERN, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Marion County No. 14-L-28 Honorable Kevin S. Parker, Judge, presiding.

          Attorney for Appellant George R. Ripplinger, Ripplinger & Zimmer, LLC

          Attorney for Appellee Edward L. Adelman, Goffstein, Raskas, Pomerantz, Kraus & Sherman, LLC

          JUSTICE CATES delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Goldenhersh and Chapman concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          CATES, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, William Kevin Peach, brought suit against defendant, Lynsey E. McGovern, for personal injuries he sustained in an automobile accident. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant, and the circuit court of Marion County entered judgment on that verdict. Plaintiff appeals, contending the jury verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence, especially where defendant was adjudged negligent as a matter of law. Plaintiff further asserts that the trial court erred in allowing defense counsel, over objection, to present evidence pertaining to the relative amount of damage sustained by the vehicles and argues that there was a direct correlation between the amount of damage to the vehicles, as depicted in photographs, and plaintiff's injuries. We reverse and remand.

         ¶ 2 The evidence revealed that plaintiff was on his way home around 10 p.m. after visiting with his girlfriend on the evening of July 17, 2010. As he was driving home, he had to stop at the intersection of North Shelby Street and East Main Street in Salem, Illinois, to allow traffic to clear. While waiting at the stop sign, the rear of plaintiff's 1985 Nissan pickup truck was struck by another vehicle. Plaintiff testified that even though he had his foot on the brake, his truck was pushed some 5 to 10 feet into the intersection. When the collision occurred, plaintiff's head hit the back window of his truck and his neck began hurting immediately. The vehicle that rear-ended plaintiff's truck was a 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by defendant, who was also on her way home. Defendant claimed she was fully stopped behind plaintiff, when her foot slipped off the brake. She further testified that her vehicle simply rolled into the rear of plaintiff's truck. Plaintiff, on the other hand, estimated defendant's speed to have been 20 to 25 miles per hour at the time of the impact. He also noticed that defendant was on her cell phone.

         ¶ 3 After the accident, both plaintiff and defendant got out of their vehicles to inspect the damage. The back bumper of plaintiff's truck was dented, and the front bumper of defendant's Eclipse was cracked. Defendant was unwilling to call the police or exchange information with plaintiff. Instead, defendant decided to leave the scene. As she was leaving, plaintiff was able to get the license plate number from defendant's car. Plaintiff drove back to his girlfriend's house because his neck was hurting so badly. He testified that it was as if somebody suddenly set a match to his neck. Plaintiff also had a headache and felt like he was in a daze. The girlfriend testified that plaintiff came back to her house about 15 minutes after he left. Because plaintiff appeared to be a bit disoriented, and was complaining of a severe headache and neck pain, the girlfriend indicated she took plaintiff to the emergency room at a nearby hospital.

         ¶ 4 While plaintiff was in the emergency room undergoing various tests, the police were contacted so that a police report could be made. Plaintiff gave the license plate number he had recorded from defendant's car to the police. When the police contacted defendant, she admitted she had been involved in a vehicular accident. Defendant was subsequently ticketed for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and pled guilty to the offense.

         ¶ 5 Plaintiff testified that since the accident, he has had chronic neck pain. A few days after the accident, plaintiff visited his regular physician, Dr. Luecha. Plaintiff was given steroids and a neck brace, and he underwent therapy, but nothing helped with the pain. He was then referred to Dr. Templer, a pain management specialist in Mount Vernon. Plaintiff underwent an MRI of his cervical spine in September and began treatment with Dr. Templer in October of 2010. The MRI revealed that plaintiff was not suffering from degenerative changes that had accumulated over the years, but rather from more recent injuries, consistent with having been rear-ended in a motor vehicle collision. Specifically, the MRI showed a straightening of the normal lordosis, consistent with muscle spasm and pain, and a right disc protrusion at C3-4, with foraminal narrowing on the right, compression of the right lateral recess, compression of the dural sac, and compression of the anterior margin of the spinal cord. Plaintiff was diagnosed with cervical sprain or strain, consistent with whiplash.

         ¶ 6 Plaintiff further stated he was suffering from pain radiating down into his right arm and tenderness in the upper trapezius muscle. He indicated that he still has to rest his neck every three to four days because of the pain. Plaintiff testified that prior to the collision, he had experienced no problems with his neck. By the time of the trial, his medical bills had exceeded $23, 000. Plaintiff's final diagnosis was whiplash syndrome, chronic neck pain, cervical facet arthropathy, cervical disc herniation, cervical annular tear, and possible cervical radiculopathy, cervical foraminal stenosis, and cervical degenerative disc disease.

         ¶ 7 Dr. Templer, the pain management physician, testified that with whiplash, the neck moves beyond its typical range of motion, and the overextension and flexion of the neck is the mechanism that causes the chronic pain. Dr. Templer noted that even very low speed collisions can cause hyperflexion/hyperextension injuries. Dr. Templer further opined that the accident caused the whiplash, annular tear, and loss of integrity of disc space reported in plaintiff's medical records.

         ¶ 8 Plaintiff also testified that the dented bumper was not the only damage to his truck caused by the collision. According to plaintiff, a few days after the accident, the brackets on the truck bed failed. As a result, plaintiff's vehicle was no longer drivable.

         ¶ 9 At the close of the evidence, the court directed a verdict for plaintiff on the issue of negligence and reserved the questions of causation and damages for the jury. The jury subsequently returned a verdict in favor ...

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