from the Circuit Court of Marion County No. 14-L-28 Honorable
Kevin S. Parker, Judge, presiding.
Attorney for Appellant George R. Ripplinger, Ripplinger &
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.
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 ...